What are Student Learning Goals and Outcomes?

Student Learning Goals (SLGs)

Student learning goals (SLGs) are broad statements about what a program wants its majors to know or be able to do. The goals are a step in between the program's mission statement (a current, accurate description of the primary purpose of the program) and student learning outcomes (specific statements about the observable behaviors a program expects from its majors). Unlike student learning outcomes, goals do not have to be stated in a way that implies how it will be measured. Think of goals as a way to organize the program's student learning outcomes.

Student learning goals should give prospective students a general sense of what they should gain from completing the program. Ideally, all faculty in a program should be aware of the program's goals and be able to easily communicate the goals to prospective students and their parents, as well as to potential employers of the program's students.

As the name implies, student learning goals should focus only on learning and exclude operations. For example, while a program should monitor enrollment, retention, and engagement, these measures do not represent student learning.

While there are no strict rules about how many goals a program should have, programs should have a reasonable and manageable number of goals. Three to six goals are typical. The set of goals should represent what is most important to the program and should be reflected in the program's curriculum.

Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs)

Student learning outcomes (SLOs) are specific statements about the observable behaviors a program expects from its majors upon graduation. Student learning outcomes should represent those skills and abilities that are most important to a program and that are appropriate for the degree level. While the list of SLOs certainly could not include everything a student should learn from majoring in a program, the SLOs should give prospective students and potential employers of graduates a good sense of what students gain from completing the program.

At Appalachian, programs organize student learning outcomes around student learning goals. Each parent goal should have a reasonable number of SLOs associated with it. Again, three to six outcomes are typical for each goal.

Student learning outcomes should be written with specific action verbs that identify how students will demonstrate learning and avoid vague terms (such as knowledge, ability, awareness, appreciation). The verb chosen for a student learning outcome is especially important since it implies how the program will measure whether or not students of the program are successfully achieving the outcome. Following the S.M.A.R.T. acronym, outcomes should be: 

  • Specific:          States exactly what is expected using concrete action verbs
  • Measurable:  Requires a measurable result
  • Attainable:     Is achievable yet reasonably stretches the student
  • Realistic:         Is reasonable and appropriate for the degree level
  • Timely:            Incorporates current professional/disciplinary expectations

 Click here (PDF) for more detailed instructions on how to craft well written student learning outcomes or feel free to contact one of the assessment consultants in IRAP for assistance.

Click here (PDF) to see the rubric that assessment committees use to assess the quality of an academic program's goals and student learning outcomes.