Assessing Student Learning in Higher Education

Section 1

Section 2
 Background and Rationale for Assessment

Section 3
 Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs)
Defining SLOs
Defining Terms
Objectives & SLOs
Sample SLOs
SLOs & Learning Domains
Writing SLOs
Evaluate the section

Section 4

Assessment Tools and Data

Section 5
Course Assessment

Section 6
Program Assessment


Section 7
Closing the Loop

Section 8
Implementing Assessment Training on Campus


Section 9
References & Resources



Using Materials from this Website

How do objectives and goals differ from learning outcomes?

 Student learning outcomes build upon, but are different from, course or program objectives and goals because they represent a new perspective. 



Objectives represent valuable skills, tools, or content (nuts and bolts) that enable a student to engage a particular subject.

SLOs represent overarching products of the course.

Objectives focus on content and skills important within the classroom or program: what the staff and faculty will do. Often termed the input in the course.

Outcomes express higher level thinking skills that integrate the content and activities and can be observed as a behavior, skill, or discrete useable knowledge upon completing the class.

Objectives can often be numerous,  specific, and detailed. Assessing and reporting on each objective for each student may be impossible.

An assessable outcome is an end product that can be displayed or observed and evaluated against criteria.

“Outcomes demonstrate an understanding and application of a subject beyond the nuts and bolts which hold it together; objectives represent the nuts and bolts.”  (BC Chemistry Prof).

Course Goal – the purpose of the course

bulletThe goal of this general art course is to cultivate a sense of aesthetic significance through analysis of problems and interpretations as they apply to a variety of disciplines
bulletThe goal of this general education biology course is to help students acquire and retain relevant biologic knowledge/information, teach them to think/apply this knowledge, and stimulate them to continue learning in the field.
bulletThe goal of this nutrition course is to prioritize key nutrition behaviors, identify health and nutrition needs, and integrate these behaviors into health interventions, educational training, and policy.

Course Objectivesthe specific teaching objectives detailing course content and activities. (see examples for the nutrition course)

bulletReview nutritional recommendations and components.
bulletDiscuss differences in nutritional requirements associated with sex, age, and activity.
bulletDescribe causes and consequences of nutritional problems.
bulletExplain complications of underlying physiologic conditions (e.g.  diabetes & mal-absorption).
Identify key factors involved in correcting nutritional behaviors.
bulletDescribe resources and strategies to treat nutritional disorders.

Course SLOThis is an outcome that describes what a student will do at the end of this nutrition course.

A student will be able to analyze a documented nutritional problem, determine a strategy to correct the problem, and write a draft nutritional policy addressing the broader scope of the problem.

Try out the quiz in the resources and links column to test your ability to tell goals, objectives, and outcomes apart.

*Note: This is an area where language and definitions do not often match. You may find that you have written your objectives as outcomes (what the student should be able to do). This explanation and the quiz were developed to help faculty gain confidence in understanding the scope of student learning outcomes not to create or redefine terms.

Proceed to a quick quiz

Resources and Links


Quiz to differentiate goals, objectives, and SLOs.


Sample of one Helen Acosta's conversion of Speech course objectives to SLOs





Janet Fulks
Assessing Student Learning in Community Colleges (2004), Bakersfield College