Student learning objectives (SLOs) are measurable tasks or outcomes that students must demonstrate after completing an assessment or module in a course. Student learning objectives should be narrow and specific, which makes them different from course goals, while course goals should be broader and focus on broader learning outcomes.

Student learning objectives are an important part of the course design process because they ensure the alignment of the expectations, tasks, assessments, and instructional materials. Crafting measurable learning objectives in advance will help guide the development of student-centered assessments and confirm whether students have achieved mastery.

Writing measurable learning objectives is an essential part of the course design process because they help instructors plan what they will teach, as well as prepare students in what they will learn. Student learning objectives provide a framework for course development, communicate clear expectations, and shift attention to the student learning experience by focusing on their achievements.

To learn more about SLOs, continue exploring the page or request assistance from the Center for Instructional Technology and Training.

Application

Writing student learning objectives should begin after analyzing the needs for the course. Once that is complete, there are fundamental components to writing measurable student learning objectives. The ABCD approach [1] outlines four main components of student learning objectives: A) Audience, B) Behavior, C) Condition, and D) Degree. As you check for all four components, consider the following:

  • Audience
    • Who does this apply to? Consider the program type, level of student (lower-level, upper-level), expected background knowledge, etc.
  • Behavior
    • What is the action that students will take to demonstrate this objective? It's helpful to refer to Benjamin Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives when identifying the appropriate action and level of learning that students must demonstrate. 
  • Condition
    • What resources will a student need to complete this objective? Examples of conditions could be:
    • "After completing an online simulation.."
    • "Referencing the Ethical and Professional Guidelines..."
    • What is the level of efficiency or the timeline in which learners must demonstrate the objective? An example of a degree is:
  • Degree

"At the end of this module, students must..."

Examples

At the end of this module (degree), students (audience) will be able to list (behavior) the eight stages of human development using Erik Erikson’s psychoanalytic theory (condition).

After using the online simulation (condition), students (audience) will create (behavior) a VoiceThread presentation illustrating all six phase changes (degree) of substances.

Best Practices

Evaluating student learning objectives for effectiveness is critical to ensure that assessments align to the objectives and goals of the course and that learners will be able to measure their success. During or after writing student learning objectives, ask if the student learning objective is SMART:

  • Specific — does the student learning objective clearly define the action or product that students must deliver?
  • Measurable — does the student learning objective have quantifiable or deliverable results? 
  • Attainable — can the student learning objective be met given the parameters of the course? 
  • Relevant — is the student learning objective practical and necessary to the course?
  • Time-bound — does the student learning objective define the time in which it should be demonstrated?

Benjamin Bloom's Taxonomy of Education Objectives is a commonly-used taxonomy that helps craft and evaluate student learning objectives. Bloom identified six levels of learning that students can achieve according to complexity and richness. At the bottom is the lowest level, which focuses on recalling facts; as you move up the pyramid, a student's understanding grows more sophisticated and they can do more with the information.

Student learning objectives should include varied levels of learning from Bloom's Taxonomy. Checking where each student learning objective falls helps to ensure that the rigor is appropriate for the course.

References and Additional Resources

Citations

Further Exploration

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