What are Student Learning Outcomes?

Student learning outcomes (SLOs) describe the specific, measurable knowledge, values, or skills that students will be able to demonstrate upon completing the academic program using precise language focused on the student, as opposed to the program. SLOs directly relate to the program’s identified goals and address the specific behaviors students must demonstrate to prove that the program is making progress towards their goals.
To develop SLOs, examine each of your program’s goals. For each goal, ask:

  • “What specifically would students have to do to convince us that this goal was being achieved?”
  • “How would we prove to others that students are achieving this goal?”

SLOs should be SMART


  • Stated in definite language, SLOs should describe the specific knowledge, values, or skills graduates from the program are expected to demonstrate.


  • Data related to the SLO should be readily available, and the data collection process should be feasible considering available time and resources.

Aggressive but Attainable

  • In the spirit of continuous improvement, program faculty and staff should determine an assessable criterion for success or benchmark for the SLO that will progressively move the program closer to achieving its goals.

Results-oriented and Time-bound

  • SLOs should specify what students’ levels competence should be after a finite period of time (e.g., 5% improvement in pass rates on the state licensure exam in the next year). These specifications may be based on experience, previous assessment results, external requirements, local, state, or national benchmarks, etc.

How do you write Student Learning Outcomes?

As with program goals, there is no one ‘right’ way to write SLOs, but the following is a popular structure:

“Students will be able to (ACTION VERB) (Product of specific knowledge, value, or skill)

Example SLOs:

  • “Students will be able to identify historical periods of English literature.”
  • “Students will be able to apply differential calculus to model rates of change in time of physical and biological phenomena”
  • “Students will be able to describe the function of key economic institutions”
  • “Students will be able to construct effective messages for diverse audiences”
  • Students will be able to locate, interpret, evaluate, and use professional dietetics literature to make evidence-based practice decisions.

Writing Knowledge-Based SLOs

When constructing knowledge-based SLOs (i.e., describing what we want graduates of the academic program to know), it may be helpful to consider Bloom’s Taxonomy, presented below. The taxonomy presents hierarchical levels of knowledge ranging from simple (remembering) to complex (creating). Lower levels of knowledge serve as necessary preconditions for higher levels of expertise. Each cognitive ‘level’ is associated with specific demonstrable actions and abilities. Write SLOs with action verbs corresponding to the academic program’s desired level of student performance.
Bloom's Taxonomy 


Writing Affective or Value-Based SLOs

When constructing affective or value-based SLOs (i.e., describing what we want graduates of the academic program to value, take interest in, appreciate, feel, etc.), the following classifications may be helpful to consider:



Key Verbs


Demonstrates a willingness to participate in the activity.

Ask, choose, describe, follow, give, hold, identify, locate, name, point to, reply, select, use


Shows interest in objectives, phenomena, or activities by seeking them out.

Answer, Assist, compile, conform, discuss, greet, help, label, perform, practice, present, read, recite, report, select, tell, write


Internalizes an appreciation for the objectives, phenomena, or activities.

Complete, describe, differentiate, explain, follow, form, initiate, invite, join, justify, propose, read report, select, share, study work


Begins to compare different values and resolves conflicts between them to form an internally consistent system of values.

Adhere, alter, arrange, combine, compare, complete, defend, explain, generalize, identify, integrate, modify, order, organize, prepare, relate, synthesize

by Value

Adopts a long-term value system that is pervasive, consistent, and predictable.

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


Writing Skill-Based SLOs

When constructing skill-based SLOs (i.e., describing what we want graduates of the academic program to be able to do), the following classifications (proposed by Simpson, 1972) may be helpful to consider:


Using senses to obtain cues to guide action.

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


Readiness to take action.

Begin, display, explain, move, proceed, react, respond, show, start, volunteer

Guided Response

Knowledge of the steps required to perform a task.

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


Performs tasks in a habitual manner, with a degree of confidence and proficiency.

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

Overt Response

Skillful performance of tasks involving complex movement patterns.

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


Modifies movement patterns to account for problematic of novel situations.

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


Creates new movement patterns to account for problematic or novel situations; Creates new tasks that incorporate learned ones.

Arrange, combine, compose, construct, design, originate

(Adapted from UCF Academic Assessment Handbook; Ball State Assessment Workbook)

Common verbs/verb phrases to avoid when writing SLOs

  • Appreciate
  • Become familiar with
  • Become aware of
  • Learn
  • Know
  • Understand
  • Demonstrate knowledge
  • Demonstrate understanding

These verbs are vague and not measurable, and thus, should not be used to specify SLOs.

FAQ: How many Student Learning Outcomes does my program need to assess?

Most programs assess around three to five SLOs, but this decision is entirely up to program faculty and staff. Each program goal should be assessed with at least one SLO, and SLOs should be representative of the knowledge, values, and skills students should have acquired throughout the course of the academic program.