A Faculty Guide to Outcomes and Objectives

Course Level objectives (CLOs) and student learning outcomes (SLOs) are related concepts in education. While both are included in syllabi, they serve different purposes and are used at different levels of instructional planning and assessment. Objectives are intended results or consequences of instruction, curricula, programs, or activities. Outcomes are achieved results or consequences of what was learned; i.e., evidence that learning took place. Here's a breakdown of the key differences between the two:

Course Level Objectives (CLOs)

  1. Foundational: CLOs are typically developed by instructors or curriculum designers to guide the teaching and learning process within a specific course.
  2. Focus on instruction: They describe what the instructor intends the learner to be able to do upon completion of the course. They are often related to the content, topics, and activities within the course.
  3. May not be measurable: While course objectives should be measurable and written from the learner perspective, if they are institutionally mandated or from an accrediting body, they may not always be.
  4. May vary by instructor: In some cases, different instructors teaching the same course may have slightly different CLOs based on their teaching style, expertise, and preferences.

Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs)

  1. Student-centric: SLOs are focused on what students are expected to learn, understand, or demonstrate at regular intervals throughout the course. They are centered around student achievement.
  2. Assessment and accountability: SLOs are used for assessment and accountability purposes. They guide the evaluation of whether students have achieved the intended learning outcomes.
  3. Measurable and specific: SLOs are framed in a way that makes them measurable and specific, often using action verbs tied to Bloom’s Taxonomy that describe observable behaviors or skills.
  4. Consistency across sections: SLOs are recommended to be consistent across different sections of the same course, ensuring that all students who take that course have the same learning expectations.

In a nutshell, course objectives should be designed as a foundation for planning and delivering a course, while student learning outcomes are designed to measure and assess what students have learned or achieved as a result of taking the course. Typically this will result in CLOs that are broadly defined and SLOs that are more specific. Both are important components of effective course development, and when properly aligned they ensure that learners achieve the desired results. It is important to note that BOTH course level objectives and student learning outcomes must be fully aligned not only with each other, but also with the approved course description for the given course. Course descriptions must not be altered without proper review and approval by curriculum councils. If your course description is poor or inadequate, speak with your department leadership about submitting a revision for review.

Writing Measurable Objectives and Outcomes

Writing measurable objectives or outcomes in higher education is essential for assessing the effectiveness of a course and ensuring that learners are achieving the intended goals. When writing, it is important to clearly address three main components.

  • Behavior: Use active verbs that describe what a student will be able to do once learning has occurred. To ensure that learning objectives are effective and measurable, avoid using verbs that are vague or cannot be objectively assessed.
  • Condition: Keep statements short and focused on a single outcome. This allows instructors to determine whether or not an objective has been met without having to distinguish between partial completion or success.
  • Degree: Include complex or higher-order learning objectives when they are appropriate. Most instructors expect students to go beyond memorization of facts and terminology; learning objectives should reflect instructors’expectations for student performance.

Bloom's Taxonomy, is a great resource for ensuring that these components are met. Bloom's is a framework that categorizes learning into six levels of cognitive complexity, ranging from lower-order to higher-order thinking skills: Remembering, Understanding, Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating, and Creating.

Bloom's Taxonomy (revised)  A multi-colored circular diagram represents six levels of cognitive processes, moving from the innermost circle to the outermost:  1. Remembering (Level 1) - Purple circle:     - Question: "Can the learner recall or remember the information?"     - Actions: define, duplicate, list, memorise, recall, repeat, state  2. Understanding (Level 2) - Blue circle:     - Question: "Can the learner explain ideas or concepts?"     - Actions: classify, describe, discuss, explain, identify, locate, recognise, report, select, translate, paraphrase  3. Applying (Level 3) - Green circle:     - Question: "Can the learner use information in a new way?"     - Actions: choose, demonstrate, dramatise, employ, illustrate, interpret, operate, schedule, sketch, solve, use, write  4. Analysing (Level 4) - Yellow circle:     - Question: "Can the learner distinguish between different parts?"     - Actions: appraise, compare, contrast, criticise, differentiate, discriminate, distinguish, examine, experiment, question, test  5. Evaluating (Level 5) - Orange circle:     - Question: "Can the learner justify a stand or decision?"     - Actions: appraise, argue, defend, judge, select, support, value, evaluate  6. Creating (Level 6) - Red circle:     - Question: "Can the learner create a new product or point of view?"     - Actions: assemble, construct, create, design, develop, formulate, write.

Here's an overview of how to create measurable course level objectives and student outcomes, including the application of Bloom's Taxonomy:

  1. Gather context: Begin by thoroughly understanding the context of the course. This includes reviewing the program's curriculum, prerequisites, and any relevant institutional or accreditation requirements. Familiarize yourself with the course description, which typically provides a brief overview of the course's content, goals, and intended audience.
  2. Understand Bloom's Taxonomy: The higher level your course, the higher the level of learning complexity (higher level of Bloom’s) you should be incorporating. For example, freshman level courses might focus on memorization and understanding, while senior level courses should have a higher order of thinking at levels of evaluation and creation. This level of increased expectation in higher level courses is often reviewed by accrediting bodies.
  3. Prioritize key information: Start with a limited number of broad CLOs that focus on achieving the course's overall goals. Then develop a multitude of specific SLOs that measure the learners' ability to meet those broad objectives.
  4. Use action verbs: Select action verbs that are specific, measurable, and aligned with Bloom's Taxonomy to describe the expected student behaviors or achievements. For example, use verbs like "analyze," "evaluate," "synthesize," or "apply" to indicate the level of cognitive rigor.
  5. Specify conditions and criteria: For each outcome, specify the conditions under which students will demonstrate the outcome and the criteria that define successful achievement. Clearly articulate what students should do and how well they should do it.
  6. Quantify when possible: Include quantitative measures in your outcomes. This makes assessment more objective and enables straightforward evaluation.
  7. Review and revise: Regularly review and revise CLOs and SLOs based on assessment results, student feedback, and changes in the field or curriculum requirements. Outcomes should remain relevant and reflective of the course's goals.
  8. Communicate to students: CLOs and SLOs should be clearly displaying in your syllabi, and if your course content is hosted within an LMS such as Blackboard, they should be listed in your course introduction and throughout the course itself.

Aligning Objectives and Outcomes

The concept of alignment is intended to convey the idea that critical course components all work together to ensure that the learner achieves the desired outcomes. Creating CLOs that align with the course description set by the curriculum council, and SLOs that align with your CLOs is imperative when developing a quality course. Furthermore, instructional materials are used to bridge the gap between what the students know and don’t know. Hence, instructional materials should be aligned to your SLOs.

 Infographic illustrating four key components of course development:  1. COURSE DESCRIPTION: Represented by an icon of a paper and pencil. The text reads, "Course development always starts with the Course Description. We need to consider the course's content, goals, and intended audience when defining our Course Objectives."    2. COURSE OBJECTIVES: Represented by an icon of a target. The text reads, "The next step is to craft Course Objectives that align with the goals listed in the Course Description. We want to clearly and concisely communicate to students what we will be teaching."    3. MODULE OBJECTIVES: Represented by an icon of a circle containing a math equation. The text reads, "We then refine those Course Objectives into specific, measurable outcomes. These objectives are what the students will be achieving each week over the span of the course."    4. LEARNING ACTIVITIES: Represented by an icon of a notebook with an 'A+' grade. The text reads, "Each and every learning activity, from discussion posts to the final exam, should help us achieve these objectives, and measure how adequately the course description has been met.&quot

Here is an overview of the process:

  1. Identify course purpose: Based on the course description, clearly define the purpose of the course. Ask yourself, "What do I want students to achieve and learn by the end of this course?" Consider how the course fits into the broader program's curriculum and its role in helping students progress toward program-level learning outcomes.
  2. Align objectives with course description: Ensure that the course objectives directly align with the course description. The objectives should elaborate on the goals outlined in the description. If the course description mentions specific topics or content areas, make sure your objectives reflect those areas and clarify what students will achieve within them.
  3. Align outcomes with course objectives: Review the course objectives, which should already be aligned with the course description, and use them as a foundation for crafting your outcomes. Ensure that outcomes expand on the objectives, specifying the knowledge, skills, or abilities that students should gain.
  4. Develop learning activities: Make sure each of your learning activities measures one or more of the SLOs that you previously defined.

Where to go From Here

This article is only a brief overview of best practices for developing and aligning objectives and outcomes. For a more comprehensive look that includes examples, please download the full guide developed by CTLE Director, Dr. Ashley Dockens. To find out more about Lamar University's course design and development services, visit LU Online's Faculty Services page