Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) versus Course Objectives

Student Learning Outcomes for the classroom describe the knowledge, skills, abilities or attitudes that a student can demonstrate by the end of your course.

  • Don’t think about content or coverage. Consider what students should be able to DO with what they’ve learned by the end of the semester.

  • How will students demonstrate this?

  • What can they produce to show faculty that they have learned to apply their new knowledge?

When trying to define Student Learning Outcomes for a course, think of the big picture. SLOs:

  • Describe the broadest goals for the class, ones that require higher-level thinking abilities, as described in Bloom’s Taxonomy.

  • Require students to synthesize many discreet skills or areas of content.

  • Ask them to then produce something – papers, projects, portfolios, demonstrations, performances, art works, exams, etc. – that applies what they have learned.

  • Require faculty to evaluate or assess the product to measure a student’s achievement or mastery of the outcomes.

Objectives and Outcomes


Objectives describe skills, tools or content that a student will master by the end of a course.

Outcomes describe over-arching goals that a student will be able to demonstrate by the end of a course

Objectives require the use of basic thinking skills such as knowledge, comprehension, and application.

Outcomes require the use of higher level thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation (as described in Bloom’s Taxonomy

Objectives do not necessarily result in a product. Most often, objectives are synthesized or combined to produce something that measures an outcome.

Outcomes result in a product that can be measured and assessed.

Course objectives are on a smaller scale, describing small, discreet skills or “nuts and bolts” that require basic thinking skills. They are subset of outcomes. Think of objectives as the building block used to produce whatever is used to demonstrate mastery of an outcome. Objectives can be practice and assessed individually, but are usually only a portion of an overall project or application.

SLO or Objective?

The statements below were written for programs and courses. Analyze the statements to determine whether they are goals, objectives, or student outcomes.

(Engineering course) This course introduces senior engineering students to the design of concrete components of structure and how to integrate them into overall design structures.

(Engineering course) Functioning as a member of a team, the student will design and present a concrete structure which compiles with engineering standards.

(Geography course) This course will develop perspectives on GIS for representing data, information, knowledge—interplay among reality, database, and map display.

(English course) Locate and evaluate outside sources for use in developing their own analysis.

(Epidemiology course) Given a scenario concerning a specific population, define and assess the health status of that population and identify factors influencing the use of health services.

(Ecology course) Critically review the scientific literature, synthesize the findings across studies, and make appropriate ecological recommendations based on current knowledge.

(Nutrition course) Describe differences in nutritional requirements associated with sex, age, and activity.

(Nutrition course) A student will be able to analyze a documented nutritional problem, determine a strategy to correct the problem, and write a draft nutritional policy addressing the broader scope of the problem.

(Math course) Given the description of a graph of a line, write the equation of the line.

(Math course) Given data, students will analyze information and create a graph that is correctly titled and labeled, appropriately designed, and accurately emphasizes the most important data content.

Some Criteria for SLOs

Student Learning Outcome Checklist

  • Do the SLOs include active verbs?

  • Do the SLOs suggest or identify an assessment?

  • Do the SLOs address the expected level of learning for the course using Bloom’s Taxonomy as a guideline?

  • Are the SLOs written as outcomes rather than as objectives?

    • Language indicates an important overarching concept versus small lesson or chapter objectives.

    • Outcomes address what a student will be able to do at the completion of the course.

    • SLOs address student competency rather than content coverage.

  • Are the SLOs appropriate for the course?

    • Consistent with the curriculum document of record

    • Represent a fundamental result of the course

    • Align with other courses in a sequence, if applicable

    • Represent collegiate level work

Remember, the focus on SLOs is not What did we cover? Or What did we teach?

It is: What can students do or produce at the end of the course that they couldn’t at the beginning?

(Thanks to Kate Pluta and Janet Fulks at Bakersfield College , and to Cabrillo College faculty for some of the above information and examples)