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The Center for the Enhancement of Learning, Teaching, and University Assessment

Assessment Basics

Designing Student Learning Outcomes

Student learning outcomes are the ways that we can tell whether students are reaching the goals that we want them to achieve. Recent statements from the American Association of Colleges and Universities(PDF) underscore the importance of the broad skills that are achieved through liberal education. These skills are gained not only through "general education" courses, but they come to fruition as manifested in depth in the disciplines. We encourage you to develop program learning outcomes that will embody, in terms that are relevant to your discipline, Miami Plan goals and, if relevant, CAS competencies.

Student learning (developmental) outcomes are specific statements that describe the skills, abilities, knowledge, or values that students should be able to do or demonstrate as a result of the course or program (e.g., "the student identifies and summarizes the problem or question at issue").

Student learning outcomes should be defined by action terms that are:

  • Measurable
  • Observable
  • Performed by the learner


Outcomes that are vague or do not refer to actions performed by the learner cannot be easily assessed. We cannot measure what occurs in a student’s mind (e.g, the student understands concept X”), but we can measure actions taken by a student (e.g., the student defines, explains, and provides examples of concept X).

Common problems with student learning outcomes include:

  • Using vague terms, such as:
    • Appreciate
    • Become aware of
    • Become familiar with
    • Develop
    • Know
    • Learn
    • Understand
  • Describing actions taken by somebody other than the learner (e.g., “the program will help students to appreciate concept X” or “the course will provide students with the opportunity to learn about concept X”)

Sample Student Learning Outcomes

Unclear outcome: Students will understand Erikson’s developmental stages.
Clear outcome: Students will identify and summarize each of Erikson’s stages of development.

Unclear outcome: Students will be familiar with the major sociological perspectives and how they relate to their daily lives.
Clear outcome: Students will describe each of the major sociological perspectives and will illustrate how each perspective relates to events in their daily lives.

Unclear outcome: Students will develop the skills necessary for conducting research in the natural sciences.
Clear outcome: Students will design, conduct, and analyze a research project using appropriate scientific theory and methodology.

See sample program outcomes and performance criteria in cognitive affective and psychomotor domains (PDF)

Follow this link to see assessment resources by different disciplines.

Follow this link to see assessment resources for Engineering by ABET.

Example Student Learning Outcomes from Miami Faculty Syllabi

1. ENG246 – Native American Literature

  • Proposal author: Kelli Johnson
  • Example shows the overlay between Miami Plan principles, instructional activities, and student learning outcomes

2. POL102 – Global Issues

  • Proposer – Department of Political Science
  • Example shows student learning outcomes aligned with class assignments and activities

3. BIS401 – Integrative Studies Senior Seminar Proposer: Alana Van Gundy-Yoder

  • Proposer: Alana Van Gundy-Yoder

4. LAS410 – Current Latin American Issues

  • Proposer: Susan Paulson

5. CSA252

  • Proposer – Doug Troy
  • Shows how divisional student learning outcomes are connected to departmental outcomes and how course-based student learning outcomes are tied to both

6. Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering

  • Shows the connection between Divisional student learning outcomes and those of the department

7. Information Literacy Learning Outcomes (PDF)

  • Information Competencies that Support the CAS Writing Requirement
  • Sample Action Terms

    Cognitive Skills

    arrange, define, describe, duplicate, identify, label, list, match, memorize, name, order, outline, recognize, recall, relate, repeat, reproduce, select, state

    classify, convert, defend, describe, distinguish, estimate, explain, express, extend, generalize, give example, identify, indicate, infer, locate, paraphrase, predict, recognize, report, review, rewrite, select, summarize, translate

    apply, change, choose, compute, demonstrate, discover, dramatize, employ, illustrate, interpret, manipulate, modify, operate, practice, predict, prepare, produce, relate, schedule, show, sketch, solve, use, write

    analyze, appraise, break down, calculate, categorize, compare, contrast, criticize, diagram, differentiate, discriminate, distinguish, examine, experiment, identify, illustrate, infer, model, outline, point out, question, relate, select, separate, subdivide, test

    arrange, assemble, categorize, collect, combine, comply, compile, compose, construct, create, devise, design, develop, explain, formulate, generate, integrate, manage, modify, organize, plan, propose, repair, rearrange, reconstruct, relate, reorganize, revise, rewrite, set-up, summarize, synthesize, tell, write

    appraise, argue, assess, attach, choose, compare, conclude, contrast, criticize, defend, describe, discriminate, estimate, evaluate, explain, judge, justify, interpret, predict, rate, relate, select, summarize, support, value

    Affective Skills

    RECEIVING (willingness to attend)
    ask, choose, describe, follow, give, hold, identify, locate, name, point to, select, reply, use

    RESPONDING (active participation)
    answer, assist, compile, comply, conform, discuss, greet, help, label, perform, practice, present, read, recite, report, select, tell, write

    VALUING (worth or value a student attaches to a particular object)
    complete, describe, differentiate, explain, follow, form, initiate, invite, join, justify, propose, read, report, select, share, study, work

    ORGANIZATION (bringing together different values)
    adhere, alter, arrange, combine, compare, complete, defend, explain, generalize, identify, integrate, modify, order, organize, prepare, relate, synthesize

    act, discriminate, display, influence, listen, modify, perform, practice, propose, qualify, question, revise, serve, solve, use, verify

    Psychomotor Skills

    Choose, describe, detect, differentiate, distinguish, identify, isolate, relate, select, separate

    Assemble, build, calibrate, construct, dismantle, display, dissect, fasten, fix, grind, heat, manipulate, measure, mend, mix, organize, sketch

    Assemble, build, calibrate, construct, dismantle, display, dissect, fasten, fix, grind, heat, manipulate, measure, mend, mix, organize, sketch

    Adapt, alter, change, rearrange, reorganize, revise, vary

    Arrange, combine, compose, construct, create, design, originate

    Tuning USA

    Lumina Foundation has initiated Tuning USA, a faculty-led pilot project designed to define what students must know, understand and be able to demonstrate upon degree completion in a specific field. Tuning USA methodology is based upon similar work to increase the transparency around what a degree represents under Europe's Bologna Process. This 10 minute video explains the initiative and how it helps define quality in higher education for a better educated workforce.


    Gronlund, N. E. (1985). Measurement and Evaluation in Teaching (5th ed.). New York, NY: MacMillan Publishing Company.

    Kan, A. (Ed.). (n.d.). Teaching objectives, active verbs. Message posted to Tomorrow’s Professor Listserv, archived at newtomprof/postings/170.html

    University of Southern California, Division of Student Affairs. (2006, January 31). Writing learning outcomes.Retrieved June 1, 2006, from student-affairs/assess/Images/Overview%20of%20Learning%20Outcomes.pdf

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