Develop Program Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs)

Last Updated: 4 March 2024. Click here to view archived versions of this page.

  1. What are program student learning outcomes?
  2. Why develop and publish program student learning outcomes?
  3. Characteristics of program student learning outcomes
  4. Developing program student learning outcomes
  5. Taxonomies and conceptual frameworks
  6. Examples of program student learning outcomes
  7. Equity-minded considerations for program SLO development
  8. Additional resources & sources consulted

Note: The information and resources contained here serve only as a primers to the exciting and diverse perspectives in the field today. This page will be continually updated to reflect shared understandings of equity-minded theory and practice in learning assessment.

1. What are program student learning outcomes?

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Program student learning outcomes (SLOs) are clear, concise statements that describe how students can demonstrate their mastery of program goals (Allen, 2008). These statements identify the knowledge, skills, or attitudes that students will be able to demonstrate, represent, or produce upon successful completion of the program.

The process of developing or revising program SLOs must be approached through the lens of equity-minded assessment. When writing SLOs, faculty should consider not only students’ understanding and skills, but also their diverse backgrounds, ideals, beliefs, abilities, and ways of knowing. We strongly recommend that program SLOs include equity-centered statements that encourage students to analyze thoughtfully, think critically, and meaningfully explore new ideas and perspectives on issues of equity, diversity, and inclusiveness.

Our recommendation is for each program to have at least one program SLO related to equity, diversity, inclusion, and/or cultural/intercultural competency.

2. Why develop and publish program student learning outcomes?

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Student learning outcomes (SLOs):

  • Encourage conscious equity-minded teaching and learning
  • Help students learn more effectively
  • Make clear what students should expect from their educational experience
  • Encourage students to be intentional learners who direct and monitor their own learning
  • Help faculty design courses, curriculum, and programs
  • Make graduates’ skills and knowledge clear to employers, accrediting agencies, etc.

Questions SLOs address include the following:

  • What knowledge, skills, and attitudes/values should the ideal student graduating from our program demonstrate?
  • How will they be able to demonstrate these?
  • How does our program guide students to reflect and think critically about equity issues as well as different perspectives and ways of knowing?
  • How well does our program prepare students for careers, graduate school, professional study, and/or lifelong learning?
  • What evidence can we use to demonstrate growth in students’ knowledge, skills, and attitudes/values as they progress through our program?

3. Characteristics of program SLOs:

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  • Meaningful and understandable to students
  • Written using student-focused and culturally-relevant language
  • Collaboratively authored and collectively accepted with input from both students and faculty
  • Describe what students learn, rather than what faculty will do or “cover”
  • Framed in terms of the program and not individual courses
  • Observable and/or measurable
  • Important, crucial
  • Alignment:
    • Some or all program SLOs align with school/college goals and institutional goals
    • Some or all course SLOs align with program SLOs
  • Rely on verbs that specify definite, observable behaviors
  • Focus on the central skills, knowledge, and attitudes of the discipline. Incorporate or adapt professional organizations’ outcome statements when they exist.
  • Stated such that evidence related to the outcome can be gathered by more than one data-collection method
  • 3-6 program SLOs are ideal (note: programs with professional accreditation typically have more)

Learning outcome statements may be broken down into 3 main components:

  1. verb that identifies the performance to be demonstrated
  2. learning statement that specifies what learning will be demonstrated in the performance
  3. A broad statement of the criterion or standard for acceptable performance
Learning Statement
(the learning)
(the conditions of the performance demonstration)
produces and debugssource code of programsusing at least two programming languages (e.g., Python, Java).
analyzesglobal and environmental factorsin terms of their effects on people
explainsbiological processes from molecules to ecosystems in an evolutionary context using examples from Hawaiʻi
demonstratespro-social skills and professional dispositions in human interaction for persons of color and Native Hawaiians

Tips: Effective program SLOs are widely accepted and supported by faculty members. Developing appropriate and useful outcomes is an iterative process; it’s not unusual to revisit and refine the statements. Oftentimes the need for refining an SLO becomes apparent when you try to develop ways to evaluate students’ learning.

4. Developing program student learning outcomes

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Before developing or revising program SLOs, it may be helpful to take the following steps:

  • Refamiliarize with the core curriculum and with institutional learning outcomes
  • Review relevant external accreditation standards
  • Examine the SLOs of peer programs
  • Consult with current industry professionals
  • Consider how you will involve students in the development or revision process

Once you get the process started, consider these questions which focus on outcomes in different ways:

  • For each of the stated program goals, what are the specific knowledge, skills, or attitudes that would tell you this goal is being achieved?
  • What would a skeptic need (evidence, behavior, etc.) in order to see that your students are achieving the major goals you have set out for them?
  • In your experience, what evidence tells you when students have met these goals – how do you know when they’re “getting” it?
  • How are we involving students in the development and/or revision of program SLOs?

Once your program SLOs are established, consider the following good practices:

  • Publicize program SLOs in the catalog, on the web, on syllabi, annual reports, brochures, etc.
  • Use program SLOs to guide course and curriculum planning so students experience a cohesive curriculum
  • Use program SLOs to shape assessment efforts and faculty/staff conversations surrounding student learning

5. Taxonomies and conceptual frameworks

There are a number of taxonomies and conceptual frameworks that may be useful to consider when developing or revising program SLOs.

A. Fink’s Taxonomy of Significant Learning (2013)

Fink identifies six areas of significant learning that are intertwined, interactive, and non-hierarchical. Below are tables with each area and example SLOs:

AreaExample SLOs
Learning how to learn
– Becoming a better student
– Inquiring about a subject
– Self-directing learners
– Graduates are able to set goals and monitor their progress.

– Graduates are able to identify resources to aid in learning and research.
Foundational knowledge
– Understanding & remembering information
– Understanding & remembering Ideas
– Graduates can list important people and events from history.

– Graduates can articulate the foundational assumptions, central ideas, and dominant criticisms within the field.
– Skills
– Thinking (critical, creative, practical)
– Managing projects
– Graduates can analyze experimental results and draw reasonable conclusions from them.
– Connecting ideas
– Connecting learning experiences
– Connecting realms of life
– Graduates can discuss, practice, and advance Kanaka Maoli experiences in the context of world indigenous peoples.

– Graduates can apply their knowledge of the field to examine contemporary issues.
Human Dimension
– Learning about oneself
– Learning about others
– Graduates can demonstrate culturally proficient communication that empowers those traditionally disenfranchised in society, especially as grounded in race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and ability, domestically and globally, across relevant contexts.
– Developing new feelings
– Developing new interests
– Developing new values
– Graduates demonstrate professional stewardship and ethical responsibility and exemplify a productive member of society by serving their communities and society.

– Graduates can demonstrate an understanding of professional ethical principles and work ethically in pursuit of truth, accuracy, fairness and diversity.

B. Four Domains of the Medicine Wheel (LaFever, 2016)

LaFever (2016) developed a taxonomy for learning outcome statements incorporating North American Indigenous ways of knowing. This taxonomy is based on the four categories of the Medicine Wheel:

PerceiveLearn materialReceiveHonoring

The physical, intellectual, and emotional domains are likely familiar, while the spiritual domain may not be. LaFever defines spirituality not in any religious context, but instead as the transcending of self-interest (p. 412). The concepts in the Spiritual Domain are outlined below along with sample verbs to use in SLO statements (p. 418):

  • Honoring: “conscious or aware of learning that is not based in material or physical things, and transcends narrow self-interest”
    • Sample verbs: consider, meditate on, be aware, seek, open, allow, listen, observe
  • Value/d: “building relationships that honor the importance, worth, or usefulness of qualities that are related to the welfare of the human spirit”
    • Sample verbs: empathize, honor, acknowledge, balance, exemplify, serve, recognize, respect
  • Connect/ed: “build/develop a sense of belonging (group identity/cohesion) in the classroom, community, culture, etc.”
    • Sample verbs: consult, work with, bond, support, relate to, respond, care for, cooperate, participate, provide, develop, build
  • Empower/ed: “provide support and feel supported by an environment that encourages strength and confidence, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights”
    • Sample verbs: express, gain, speak out about, advocate, act upon, defend, influence, engage in, re-imagine, prepare, maintain
  • Self-Actualize/d: “ability as a unique entity in the group to become what one is meant to be”
    • Sample verbs: become, self-define, use resources, create, progress, reinforce, remain, possess, sustain, dream, envision, guide

C. Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956, revised 2001)

Bloom’s taxonomy is a well-known description of levels of educational objectives that are mutually exclusive and hierarchical. While foundational in the field, we recognize that the original (1956) Bloom taxonomy was developed through a traditionally Western lens of learning, teaching, and knowing. As such, this framework should be used with caution and in cooperation with alternative taxonomies to ensure SLOs are developed through an equity lens.

The revised (2001) Bloom taxonomy uses two dimensions to explain the learning process: the cognitive process dimension and the knowledge dimension. The cognitive process dimension represents a continuum of increasing cognitive complexity—from remembering to creating. The knowledge dimension represents a range from concrete (factual) to abstract (metacognitive) (Table 2). Representation of the knowledge dimension as a number of discrete steps can be a bit misleading. For example, all procedural knowledge may not be more abstract than all conceptual knowledge. And metacognitive knowledge is a special case. In this model, “metacognitive knowledge is knowledge of [one’s own] cognition and about oneself in relation to various subject matters” (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001, p. 44).

The table below developed by Iowa State University connects the elements of the knowledge and cognitive dimensions from Bloom’s revised taxonomy (2001):

Note: These are learning objectives – not learning activities. It may be useful to think of preceding each objective with something like, “students will be able to…:The Knowledge

The basic elements a student must know to be acquainted with a discipline or solve problems in it.
The Knowledge Dimension


The interrelationships among the basic elements within a larger structure that enable them to function together.
The Knowledge Dimension


How to do something, methods of inquiry, and criteria for using skills, algorithms, techniques, and methods.
The Knowledge Dimension


Knowledge of cognition in general as well as awareness and knowledge of one’s own cognition
The Cognitive Process Dimension


Retrieve relevant knowledge from long-term memory.
Remember + Factual
List primary and secondary colors.
Remember + Conceptual
Recognize symptoms of exhaustion.
Remember + Procedural
Recall how to perform CPR.
Remember + Metacognitive
Identify strategies for retaining information.
The Cognitive Process Dimension


Construct meaning from instructional messages, including oral, written and graphic communication.
Understand + Factual

Summarize features of a new product.
Understand + Conceptual

Classify adhesives by toxicity.
Understand + Procedural

Clarify assembly instructions.
Understand + Metacognitive

Predict one’s response to culture shock.
The Cognitive Process Dimension


Carry out or use a procedure in a given situation.
Apply + Factual

Respond to frequently asked questions.
Apply + Conceptual

Provide advice to novices.
Apply + Procedural

Carry out pH tests of water samples.
Apply + Metacognitive

Use techniques that match one’s strengths.
The Cognitive Process Dimension


Break material into foundational parts and determine how parts relate to one another and the overall structure or purpose
Analyze + Factual

Select the most complete list of activities.
Analyze + Conceptual

high and low culture.
Analyze + Procedural

compliance with regulations.
Analyze + Metacognitive

one’s biases.
The Cognitive Process Dimension


Make judgments based on criteria and standards.
Evaluate + Factual

Check for consistency among sources.
Evaluate + Conceptual

relevance of results.
Evaluate + Procedural

Judge efficiency of sampling techniques.
Evaluate + Metacognitive

Reflect on one’s progress.
The Cognitive Process Dimension


Put elements together to form a coherent whole; reorganize into a new pattern or structure.
Create + Factual

Generate a log of daily activities.
Create + Conceptual

Assemble a team of experts.
Create + Procedural

efficient project workflow.
Create + Metacognitive

a learning portfolio.

6. Examples of program SLOs

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Equity-centered program SLOs:

Advertising (B.A./B.S.)

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the multicultural history and role of professionals and institutions in shaping communications;
  • Demonstrate culturally proficient communication that empowers those traditionally disenfranchised in society, especially as grounded in race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and ability, domestically and globally, across communication and media contexts;
  • Demonstrate an understanding of professional ethical principles and work ethically in pursuit of truth, accuracy, fairness and diversity;

Electrical Engineering (B.S.) 

  • [Students can] create positive organizational impact through individual contribution and teamwork with a commitment to working with others of diverse culture and interdisciplinary backgrounds.
  • [Students can] demonstrate professional stewardship and ethical responsibility and exemplify a productive member of society by serving their communities and society.

English (B.A.)

  • [Students can] explain how literature both reflects and enriches the diversity of human experience through its exploration of the ways in which race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, ability, or class shape identity and influence perception.

Note: For additional context, it may also be useful to explore equity-minded institutional SLOs. For examples, see the resources below:

General program SLOs:

History (taken from the American Historical Association’s Tuning Project). Students can:

  • Gather and contextualize information in order to convey both the particularity of past lives and the scale of human experience.
  • Collect, sift, organize, question, synthesize, and interpret complex material.
  • Identify, summarize, appraise, and synthesize other scholars’ historical arguments
  • Craft well-supported historical narratives, arguments, and reports of research findings in a variety of media for a variety of audiences.

Natural Sciences. Students can

  • Apply the scientific method in a research proposal.
  • Evaluate the validity and limitations of theories and scientific claims in experimental results.
  • Assess the relevance and application of science in everyday life.

Psychology. Graduates can

  • Write research papers in APA (American Psychological Association) style.
  • Analyze experimental results and draw reasonable conclusions from them.
  • Recognize and articulate the foundational assumptions, central ideas, and dominant criticisms of the psychoanalytic, behaviorist, humanistic, and cognitive approaches to psychology.

7. Equity-minded considerations for program SLO development

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Equity-minded considerations for developing and revising program SLOs are included throughout this page. Below is a summary of these and other good practices designed specifically to aid in addressing equity issues through the processes of developing, using, and revising your program’s SLOs:

  • Develop learning outcomes collectively with input from all stakeholders – including faculty, students, alumni, and community members.
  • Write SLOs using student-focused and culturally responsive language so that they are meaningful and understandable to students as intended by faculty.
  • Write SLOs such that evidence related to the outcome can be gathered by more than one data-collection method.
    • For example, consider the outcome: Students will be able to apply disciplinary inquiry techniques to solve problems.
      • This outcome can be measured through student presentations, written papers, demonstrations, and/or field performance.
  • Increase transparency by making program SLOs publicly available & easily accessible. Publish them in the catalog, on the web, on syllabi, annual report, brochures, etc.

8. Additional resources & sources consulted

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Use this worksheet and checklist to record and evaluate your outcomes (Word document).

Workshop Presentation Slides and Handouts (PDFs)

Sources consulted:


  • Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing : a revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives (Complete ed.). Longman.
  • LaFever, M. (2016). Switching from Bloom to the Medicine Wheel: Creating learning outcomes that support Indigenous ways of knowing in post-secondary education. Intercultural Education, 27(5), 409-424.
  • Lybeck, K., Schomberg, J. and Scott, K. (2021). Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Program Learning Outcomes Considerations. [White paper]. Minnesota State University, Mankato.
  • Montenegro, E., & Jankowski, N. A. (2020, January). A new decade for assessment: Embedding equity into assessment praxis (Occasional Paper No. 42). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois and Indiana University, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA).

University Websites

Workshops and Other Resources

Contributors: Monica Stitt-Bergh, Ph.D., Yao Z. Hill Ph.D., TJ Buckley.