Articulate Expectations for Student Learning

What do you expect students to learn?

Make goals for student learning clear with PLOs


Effective Program Learning Outcomes: 

  • Describe the behaviors, performances, and / or habits of mind that you expect students to display as they are nearing or at the end of their undergraduate degree.
  • Focus on what students will do (NOT what the program includes).
  • A commitment to educational equity requires making implicit expectations explicit and transparent. 

Assessment Cycle Image - prepareThe UC Davis Campus Goals for Undergraduate Learners express our broadest expectations for student learning. Undergraduate Program Learning Outcomes (PLOs) describe the focused and disciplinary-specific skills, knowledge, and behaviors expected of students matriculating from an individual program or major. In PLOs, faculty identify the intended results of an academic program.

Defining aspirational--and achievable--expectations

Faculty expectations about students and student learning inform every instructional act (Anderson, Krathwohl, Airasian, Cruikshank, Mayer, Pintrich, Raths, & Wittrock, 2001). Faculty have mastered the disciplinary knowledge, skills, and dispositions that characterize expertise: they exhibit “unconscious competence, ... and exercise the skills and knowledge in their domain so automatically and instinctively that they are no longer consciously aware of what they know or do” (Ambrose et al, 2010, p. 97). Mastery means not having to think about what you know; it's automatic. Unfortunately, the implicit nature of automaticity can often create an unintended obstacle for students. (When you're an expert in your field, it's easy to forget what it was like to be a novice.) 

points along the continuum between novice and master

The process of developing learning outcomes invites faculty to reflect on, and then translate, that embodied disciplinary knowledge into clear expectations for students in their majors. We wouldn't want to leave something as important as student learning and success to guesswork.  

"Learning goals are promises. We are promising our students, their families, employers, and society that students who successfully a course, program, general education curriculum, or other learning experience can do the things we promise in our learning goals" (Suskie, 2018, p. 158).

Program Learning Outcomes 

Program learning outcomes (PLOs) "refer to the end rather than the means, the result rather than the process" (Suskie, 2018, p. 41). Effective PLOs are realistic, transparent, and they distinguish a program from others on campus.

“Program goals are broad statements concerning knowledge, skills, or values that faculty expect graduating students to achieve. They describe general expectations for students, and they should be consistent with the program mission” (Allen, 2004, p. 29)

Are the learning outcomes transparent?

What does "understanding" look like? How do we know if a student "knows" something? What does "think critically" or "communicate effectively" look or sound like?   

Effective learning outcomes statements clarify expectations through precise word choice. To increase transparency, use language which highlights the observable behaviors or skills students will display (e.g., evaluate, critique, produce, design). A handy resource for effectively describing your expectations for student learning is the Bloom's Revised Taxonomy.