L&S Guidelines for Course Learning Outcomes (CLOs)

Course Learning Outcomes (CLOs) are a critical part of course information; they communicate important information about courses, support student learning, and provide a framework for evaluating student understanding and progress. The information below provides L&S Guidelines for CLOs, examples, and how they are reviewed.

Context and overview

At UW-Madison, course learning outcomes are considered a core "catalog" part of a course, like titles and descriptions. They are entered and changed via Lumen course proposals, similar to other core information about our courses. A campus initiative is underway to collect learning outcomes for targeted courses, for more information see L&S: Expedited project for collecting Course Learning Outcomes (CLO)

Given this context, the L&S guidelines address:

  • general best practice and advice for writing learning outcomes
  • a broadly-defined "style", so learning outcomes fit the context of Guide publication
  • 'durability' across offerings/years, to help departments avoid the need for frequent updates (which require course proposals)

L&S Guidelines for Course Learning Outcomes

Course learning outcomes are specific statements of what students will be able to do when they successfully complete a course. They should be written as student-centered, measurable or observable (for the most part), achievable and concise. More specifically, when the L&S Curriculum Committee is reviewing learning outcomes in course proposals they look do see if they:

  • Describe an observable skill, end state, or evidence of knowledge or understanding. Completes the sentence “At the end of the course students will know or be able to…”

  • Start with a present-tense action verb
    • Look here for a list of verbs that describe different dimensions of learning 
    • When possible avoid general verbs like "understand", "demonstrate", or "comprehend." Instead choose verbs that reflect how one might assess whether students understands the topics. (e.g. describe, judge, differentiate, defend.)

  • Use plain, student-focused language

  • Include “just-right” level of detail, including:
    • not including information about assignments, pedagogical approaches, references to specific software or packages,  or information that is likely to need updates within a few terms (since updates will require a course proposal)
    • being course specific, and generally avoiding broader outcomes more representative of full programs or degrees.
    • include 3-7 learning outcomes (more can be indication of too much detail or not prioritizing key/unique learning)
    • seem to be durable ' across offerings/years, to help departments avoid the need for frequent updates

  • Each learning outcome is labeled with student audience, depending on the type of course:
    • Graduate-only audience course (numbered 700+ or has a graduate-only requisite): Every learning outcome must be labeled as "Graduate only"
    • Mixed undergraduate/graduate audience course (numbered below 700 and has the graduate attribute): at least one learning outcome must be labeled as graduate only; these outcomes define the separate work and assessment that graduate students are held to. Otherwise label each CLO as appropriate, "undergraduate only" "both undergraduate and graduate", or "graduate-only"
    • Undergraduate-only course: Undergraduate-only audience course (numbered below 700, does not have the graduate attribute): all learning outcomes must be labeled as undergraduate.

  • (for Gen Ed courses only) References the criteria for the general education requirement they meet: If the course has a Comm A, Comm B, QR-A, QR-B, or ESR designation, see General Education Learning Outcomes.

If learning outcomes don't meet the guidelines above, L&S staff or the L&S Curriculum Committee will ask for revisions to meet them (and can provide friendly help). 

Helpful resources

  • CLO verb lists can be a very helpful resource for describing the different types and levels of learning in your course.
  • The L&S IDC has advice for writing quality learning outcomes, including information about Fink’s and Bloom’s Taxonomy and verb / word ideas to represent different types and levels of learning.
  • The Student Learning Assessment office also has a tips and resources page for writing learning outcomes

Learning outcome examples in L&S courses

Communication Sciences & Disorders 201 (Elementary, Biological science)

  1. Analyze sound: its characteristics, its propagation, and its fundamental components (frequencies) (Undergraduate)
  2. Map out the anatomy and physiology of the human auditory system (Undergraduate)
  3. Connect anatomy and physiology to their consequences for human auditory perception (Undergraduate)
  4. Describe psychoacoustic concepts such as intensity, pitch, selectivity, and hearing in time and space (Undergraduate)
  5. Identify appropriate tools and scientific methods used to study hearing (Undergraduate)

History 201 (Humanities, Communication Part B, Intermediate)

  1. Ask questions: develop the habit of asking questions, including questions that generate new directions for historical research (Undergraduate)
  2. Find sources: learn the logic of footnotes, bibliographies, search engines, libraries, and archives, and consult them to identify and locate source materials (Undergraduate)
  3. Evaluate sources: determine the perspective, credibility, and utility of source materials (Undergraduate)
  4. Develop and present an argument: use sources appropriately to create, modify, and support tentative conclusions and new questions (Undergraduate)
  5. Plan further research: draw upon preliminary research to develop a plan for further investigation (Undergraduate)

Public Affairs 240 (Social Science, Elementary)

  1. Identify and utilize high quality sources of policy research information (Undergraduate)
  2. Engage in discussions of policy issues with researchers and policymakers using an education (vs advocacy) approach (Undergraduate)
  3. Translate policy research into accessible written deliverables for policymakers (e.g., issue briefs) (Undergraduate)
  4. Develop accessible, useful verbal presentations of policy research for policymakers (Undergraduate)

Social Work 623 (Social Science, Advanced, Graduate 50%)

  1. Explore how forms of oppression affect common perceptions of interpersonal violence (Both Grad & Undergrad)
  2. Describe theories as to why interpersonal violence occurs  (Both Grad & Undergrad) 
  3. Discuss prevention and intervention strategies to address interpersonal violence (Both Grad & Undergrad)
  4. Evaluate and apply interpersonal violence research findings to social work practices (Grad only)

Statistics 333 (Natural Science, Quantitative Reasoning B, Advanced)

  1. Correctly choose and apply common regression methods that are used in practice to analyze data, including simple and multiple linear regressions, ANOVAs/ANCOVAs, generalized linear models (e.g. logistic and Poisson) and fixed/random/mixed effect models (Undergraduate)
  2. Understand the underlying assumptions behind common regression methods and utilize diagnostic tools to detect violations of said assumptions (Undergraduate)
  3. Correctly interpret and explain results from regression methods, including interpretation of the coefficients, the p-values, R-squared, and other statistical summaries from regression (Undergraduate)
  4. Apply these methods to real data using the free statistical software R (Undergraduate)

Questions or help

Please contact Sara Stephenson, Academic Planner, L&S TLA (sara.stephenson@wisc.edu) for help or more information.



Keywordsgoal, goals, objective, learning, objectives, student, assessment, assess, best, practice, verbs, how writing   Doc ID126976
OwnerSara S.GroupL&S KB
Created2023-03-30 10:20:46Updated2023-11-28 12:47:22
SitesL&S KB
CleanURLhttps://kb.wisc.edu/writing-clo
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