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Guidance for Writing Course Learning Outcomes (CLOs)

This page provides advice for writing CLOs

Context and overview

The Provost’s Office has launched a multi-year initiative to collect and publish high-quality course learning outcomes for UW-Madison courses. An L&S overview of this process can be found here: L&S: Course Learning Outcomes (CLO) Expedited Project

Course Learning Outcomes (CLOs) are now considered a core component of courses, similar to approved course titles, descriptions, and requisites. Starting in June 2024, collected CLOs will be published alongside our Guide Course catalog, along with title, course description and other course information.  Going forward, revisions to collected CLOs will require course proposals, like changes to other parts of approved courses. Given this newer environment, L&S has advice for writing or reviewing CLOs.

Guidance for writing 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. 

Course-level learning outcomes should:

  • start with a present-tense action verb or adverb (for examples, consult this list from the Centre for Learning, Innovation & Simulation at the Michener Institute of Education at UNH)
  • describe an observable skill, end state, or evidence of knowledge or understanding
  • use plain, student-focused language
  • include  “just-right” level of detail, which will help them be durable across several offerings:
    • 3-7 priority course-specific learning outcomes
    • free from detail about assignments, pedagogical approaches, or other information likely to change term to term
    • not overly broad/deep outcomes more representative of program/degree-related outcomes (one or two broad or aspirational CLOs is ok.)

  • complete the sentence “At the end of the course students will know or be able to…” (Note: Departments will be asked to revise CLOs not in this format)
  • (for Gen Ed courses only) reference general education requirements they meet: If the course has a Comm A, Comm B, QR-A, QR-B, or ESR designation, see information on those criteria here

Per course policy, each CLO must be labeled with an audience:

Description of audience label requirements for CLOs

Type of course

 Audience label requirements

numbered below 700 with no graduate attribute  All CLOs must be labeled "Undergraduate only"
Numbered below 700 and HAS the graduate attribute

 The course must:

  • Have at least one CLO labeled "graduate only"
  • Each additional CLO must be labeled as
    • "undergraduate only"
    • "graduate only" or
    • "both undergraduate and graduate"
Numbered above 700  All CLOs must be labeled "Graduate only"

Additional Resources

  • The L&S Instructional Design Collaborative’s website for writing quality learning outcomes provides more information, 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

Additional help

Please contact Sara Stephenson ( in L&S Teaching & Learning Administration with questions.

Keywords:writing CLOs,writing course learning outcomes,CLO,Course Learning Outcome,   Doc ID:126976
Owner:Sara S.Group:L&S KB
Created:2023-03-30 11:20 CDTUpdated:2023-09-06 11:48 CDT
Sites:L&S KB
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