You likely have some student learning outcome statements — that is, statements that reflect what skills or knowledge sets you want students to learn as a result of your office or division’s programming.
You may have created these statements because someone told you to, because you were inspired by a colleague, or simply because you recognized that the interactions you have with students (and they with you!) can result in a change of student knowledge, skill, or behavior. Either way, if you have these statements but are not sure if they are quality, appropriate, or “enough,” then this blog post is for you. It’s also for anyone seeking to create learning outcomes for the first time!
I’ll cover key considerations and steps you can take in either creating or reviewing and refining your learning outcomes.
The information is presented chronologically, in the order of how I usually evaluate learning outcomes. But you do not necessarily have to follow the same order, especially if aspects of the considerations do not apply to you and your outcomes.
First and foremost, you should check to see if your learning outcomes are indeed concerned with student learning.
Is each statement describing something your staff or interventions do (such as providing programs and opportunities, creating awareness, encouraging participation, or tracking attendance)? If so, you’re not talking about student learning; you are talking about operational outcomes, objectives, goals, or purposes. That information can be a useful starting or reference point in relation to student learning outcomes though. For example, if you provide programs, think about what students gain from participating in those programs. Then, you’ll be on track to articulate some learning outcomes.
Next, without getting into the weeds of analyzing each word of an outcome statement, you can check to see if the general nature of your department’s intended impact on students is covered. For example, if your office coordinates civic engagement, leadership, and educational programming for students, but all of your outcomes are focused on student leadership development, then you’re likely missing pertinent learning outcomes for the rest of your interventions.
This step is different from determining whether learning outcomes should be written for an individual workshop or for a workshop series (I’ll cover that later); here, you are looking for high-level coverage for the topical knowledge, skills, and behaviors. As I alluded to before, this could be a good opportunity to look for possible alignment with operational objectives or to think about the amount and types of services offered by your area and whether your learning outcomes cover that spread.
There is no magic number for the right amount of student learning outcomes. You should have as many as are necessary or appropriate for the interventions you offer students.
Assessment literature may caution against having too many outcomes (think 20 or more), but that’s not because you should limit your potential influence on student learning. Rather, it’s because good assessment practice involves having multiple measures at multiple points in time in order to understand how student learning may have changed. And doing assessment for too many outcomes can be pretty taxing. It can spread your resources and focus too thin to bring about meaningful changes.
As I said before, it can help to think about your department’s purpose and consider if the amount of learning outcomes you have are reflective of the impact you think your interventions can make on students. More pointedly, you want to be sure you have meaningful coverage for the scope of your content. For example, if you offer a one-time loan borrowing service for students geared toward financial literacy, you may only have a few learning outcomes. Conversely, if you offer a full residential education curriculum with multiple passive and active programs throughout the year, you should have many more outcomes.