FAQs Related to Arts & Science Learning Goals & Objectives

What terminiology should we use: Student Learning Outcomes? Student Learning Goals? or Learning Objectives?

"Learning Outcomes," "Goals," and "Objectives" are all used to describe what we want students to learn.  While these terms are not always used consistently, we will be transitioning to a common vocabulary at Canisius to facilitate assessment across departments and schools. We will be using a Goals and Objectives format to describe what it is we want our students to know, be able to do, and/or value as a result of their Canisius experiences. In this format, the Learning Goal is followed by specific learning objectives that, taken together, more precisely reflect the various aspects of the broader learning goal. We will phase out the term "Student Learning Outcome" in favor of Student Learning Goals. We will be adding, where appropriate, measurable learning objectives under each goal.

What is a Student Learning Goal (previously called an SLO)?

A student Learning Goal is a broad statement about what students should know, be able to do, and/or value, as a result of their educational experiences. 

Until the Summer of 2008, we used the terms SLO and Student learning Goal interchangeably in Arts and Sciences to ease entry into the assessment process.  We initially focused on the phrase, "Student Learning Outcome" (SLO) because it made clear that we were talking about a very specific kind of goal: one narrowly applicable to student learning as opposed to a program goal like increasing the number of students in a major.  This was a source of confusion in many of the first assessment conversations and reports.  Additionally, using the SLO term allowed us to emphasize and actively describe what it is we expect students to know, be able to do, and/or value as a result of their educational experience--a learner-centered approach.  Previously, the tendency was on describing what we would provide or how we would educate our students--a teacher-centered approach.

Now that the campus is more familiar with assessment and its focus on student learning, we will transition to a Student Learning Goals and Objectives vocabulary and format.

What is the Student Learning Goals and Objectives format?

A Student Learning Goal is a broad statement about what students should know, be able to do, and/or value as a result of their educational experiences. It tends to be somewhat abstract, is often intangible, and is usually difficult to measure directly. This broad learning goal is followed by learning objectives that further delineate, in more concrete terms, learning achievements that constitute a part of the broader learning goal. Thus the learning objectives are the more narrowly defined, precise, and tangible elements of the broader goal. They are are also measurable. A single learning goal typically has multiple learning objectives associated with it.  Assessments of these individual objectives are used to determine if the broader learning goal is being met.

If I have been using SLO's, what do I need to do to transition to a Learning Goals and Objectives format?

For the vast majority of programs it simply means examining the SLO to determine how it can best be broken into the discrete components that, together, make up the broader learning statement.  These measurable component parts become the objectives.

For a small minority of programs with numerous related SLO's, it means creating the broader goal under which the more specific outcomes are gathered.

What is assessed--the Goal or the Objectives?

It is typically difficult to measure a learning goal directly. It is therefore assumed that student achievement of the specific learning objectives represents achievement of the broader goal.  In cases where there are no objectives, it is the goal itself that is assessed. When this is the case, it is expected that all aspects of the goal are considered.

How often should programs update their Student Learning Goals and Objectives?

Assessment is a reflective process that continually adapts to the information gathered about student learning. Consequently, it is not unusual for learning goals and objectives to undergo revisions and updates as programs refine what it is they want their students to know, be able to do, and/or value. Thus, a program's goals and objectives should be reviewed yearly and updated as needed.

Are there Student Learning Goals and Objectives for Values?

Some goals and objectives, particularly those related to values, may be difficult to make explicit and assess. Nonetheless, if they are deemed an important aspect of student learning for your program, they should be articulated and assessed.  Improving both the statements of expected student learning and the measures used to assess that learning should be an ongoing part of the process for values as well as for student learning of content and skills.

How many goals and objectives should my program have?

While there is tremendous variation here, it is typically the case that a program has between three and five learning goals, and each goal has between two and five objectives.  Partly, this is a pragmatic concern--you are expected to completely assess all your goals and objectives within a four-year period.  Partly, it is a prioritizing task that requires programs to focus on the things they deem most important for their graduates.  Not everything that can be assessed should be assessed, and not everything that should be assessed will be. Faculty in programs need to decide what will work best for them in determining what it is they want their graduates to know, be able to do and/or value at the conclusion of the program.