Program- or department-level learning outcomes/goals (PLOs) can bring coherence to a curriculum and help both students and faculty see how courses in a program interact with and build on each other. A clearly articulated, relevant set of program-level Learning goals can guide the assessment of learning by providing feedback on the extent to which the program is reaching its publicly stated PLOs. In this process it’s valuable to know how, where, and when majors and prospective majors gain an overview of the goals of the undergraduate program and develop an understanding of what they will know or be able to do at the end of their course of study.
Developing a set of PLOs begins with the identification of values, goals, or the mission of an academic program, how these elements relate to students moving through the program, and what essential things they need to learn in the process. PLOs set the higher level learning goals for all students in the program. At this level, learning goals are broad in scope and tend to focus on a well-rounded student learning experience but should still be realistic and meaningful to faculty and students.
I. A common process for developing PLOs
1. Consider these questions while developing PLOs
- What constitutes quality undergraduate education in your field?
- What is your academic program about?
- What do you want to have happen as a result of learning in the program and do the students have an opportunity to learn it in courses?
- What do faculty want to accomplish in the program and can the intended results be achieved?
2. Do you need to gather any information in order to develop or revise the PLOs? Which of the following information/data will be helpful to you?
- Current course syllabi across curriculum (What is taught and aimed at in each course?)
- Graduating students or alumnae's perceptions on what they gained through the program
- Achievment/performance level of current students (What can they do by the end of the program?)
- Peer institution's program-level learning outcome statements
- National/disciplinary standards or statements on learning expectations (e.g.,
3. Draft program learning goals using action verbs to begin each statement (demonstrate, apply, practice, integrate, discriminate). Take a look at Bloom's Taxonomy for identifying complexity and level of cognitive and knowledge you expect students to be able to gain/perform by the end of a degree program.
II. Sample PLOs
From Global Poverty & Practice (UC Berkeley) undergraudate minor program:
Students graduating with a minor in Global Poverty & Practice will be able to demonstrate a basic understanding of the following:
- Scholarly approaches to understanding poverty, wealth, and inequality in an historical and global context.
- Knowledge of international development and domestic poverty alleviation policies, programs, institutions, and social movements.
- An ability to critically engage in public debates about poverty and poverty action through written texts as well as through the use of social, digital, and visual media.
- Knowledge of the history and contemporary politics of poverty and inequality in a particular place or world region, in preparation for the practice requirement of the minor.
- Analytical and practical skills gained through the practice experience in a particular sector of poverty action (e.g., agricultural and rural development, urban poverty, public health, human rights, legal systems, education, energy resources, and sustainable technology), at various scales (e.g., community, global) and in various forms (e.g., government policy, social movements).
- An understanding of different modalities and relations of power involved in poverty action, developed through historically informed analytical skills, the practice experience, and critical reflection.
Use the checklist to see if modifications to the PLOs is necessary.
- Focus on the higher-level learning or skills that you feel are essential (life long learning, provide leadership, practice ethical behavior, build community connections)
- Make the learning goals “real world” by connecting each goal to what happens in your field and in your courses (practice ethical behavior while conducting research in science)
- Consider where students will learn the skills presented in the program learning goals (learning may be spread across various courses and may be brought together in an ending or capstone experience)
- Consider how student progress towards achieving program learning goals will be evaluated (in courses where the learning related to outcomes takes place, in capstone experiences, internships, research projects)
- Consider what will be done with the results of the assessment of program-level learning goals. How will results of assessment be acted on to improve student learning?