Course Level Student Learning Outcomes
In this context, learning outcomes describe what students are able to demonstrate in terms of knowledge, skills, and values upon completion of a course. For our purposes the terms learning outcomes and learning goals are interchangeable. The term “learning outcomes” is used broadly in higher education, but some people find it more straightforward to think about goals for learning.
It is also possible to have learning outcomes for an academic program, a sequence of courses, or other learning structures. Learning outcomes should be objective, measurable and aligned with the material covered in the course and its methods of assessment. Here are a few examples:
• Student will be able to analyze the interaction of politics and economics in developing nations.
• Student will be able to describe the scientific principles of heredity.
• Student will be able to design a qualitative research study.
In the Criteria for Accreditation, the Higher Learning Commission requires "clearly stated goals for student learning and effective processes for assessment of student learning and achievement of learning goals." For course level learning outcomes, the syllabus is the place where the goals and assessment are explained.
According to the UW-Madison 2015 Assessment Plan “All courses offered at UW-Madison must have course syllabi with course objectives and student learning goals clearly articulated.” (For more about the 2015 Assessment Plan see: https://assessment.provost.wisc.edu/institutional-plan-for-assessing-student-learning/)
There are learning outcomes that are common to each offering of a course regardless of instructor, mode of instruction, etc. These learning outcomes are included in the proposal for a new course and may subsequently be updated through the course change proposal process. An instructor may have additional learning outcomes for a specific offering of a course but these may not be in place of the established course level learning outcomes. If a course is part of the requirements for a particular degree/major or certificate one or more of the learning outcomes could relate to the program learning outcomes.
Learning outcomes are a required component for a course proposal's sample syllabus. Usually a course will have 3 to 7 main learning outcomes; instructors should think about what they want students to know or gain from the course. Another way to think of this is to answer the question, when students leave this course I want them to be able to (fill in the blank). Instructors can look to the language they use for their academic program learning outcomes and may want to link to that same language. Instructors may want to review resources provided below for more examples and information. If relevant they may refer to guidelines for learning outcomes available through the accrediting body for their program or discipline. The sample syllabus that they provide with their course proposal should include a section with learning outcomes written in a format that works for them.
Each time a course is offered the established learning outcomes for the course must be included on the syllabus.
The UW-Madison Guide includes program level learning outcomes for each undergraduate and graduate degree/major offered.
Undergraduate General Education requirements also have requirement specific learning outcomes.