Developing Program Learning Outcomes
What are Program Learning Outcomes?
Program Learning Outcomes (PLOs) are specific statements that clearly describe what students will know (content knowledge), be able to do (skills) and/or value (attitudes) when they have completed an academic program.
Why have Program Learning Outcomes?
When PLOs are understood by students, they
- focus better in their studies (Wood, 2003, 2004)
- probe more deeply into their learning (Biggs, 1999)
- remember more content from their courses (Halpern & Hakel, 2003)
- are able to apply their learning better (Halpern & Hakel, 2003)
How to articulate Program Learning Outcomes that promote student success?
There is no precise formula for writing outcome statements, but here are some guidelines. PLOs should:
- Align to the program’s goals and mission.
- Describe the most important knowledge, skills and values relevant to your discipline.
- Be stated in simple language, following this general format:
- Program graduates will be able to [action verb] + [something].
- Use action verbs that result in overt behavior that can be observed and measured
- Bloom’s Taxonomy is a useful classification of learning objectives and represents the process of learning. The examples of active verbs provided along the continuum emphasize what a learner “can do”.
- Articulate the specific level and type of competence appropriate to the degree (Emphasis, CER, AS/AAS, BA/BS).
- Be observable and measureable.
- Be rigorous but attainable outcomes.
Where to turn to for ideas?
- Institutional mission and values
- Institutional Goals
- Disciplinary associations
- Bloom’s Taxonomy
- Faculty interest, commitments and expertise
- Employer feedback
- Alumni feedback
- Peer institutions’ websites
An Example of Revising a Program Learning Outcome (taken from A Program Guide for Outcomes Assessment at Geneva College, April 2000):
Poorly stated PLO:
Students should know the historically important systems of psychology.
- Does not say what systems
- Does not say what information should be known about the systems
- Recognize names?
- Recite central ideas?
- Criticize assumptions?
Better stated PLO:
Students should understand the psychoanalytic, Gestalt, behaviorist, humanistic, and cognitive approaches to psychology.
- Says what theories
- Does not detail what should be known or how deeply they should understand
Best stated PLO:
Students should be able to recognize and articulate the foundational assumptions, central ideas, and dominant criticisms of the psychoanalytic, Gestalt, behaviorist, humanistic, and cognitive approaches to psychology.
- Clear specific statement
- Students understand target
- Provides faculty with a reasonable standard
Suskie, L. (2009). Developing Learning Goals. In Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide (2nd edition) (pp. 115-134). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.