Chapter on Assignment Centered Course Design & Student Learning Outcomes (SLOS)


In the "assignment-centered model," the teacher begins not by asking, "What should I cover in this course? Rather, "What should my students learn to do?" Coverage of content does not disappear under the assign-centered model: basic facts, concepts, and procedures are still important; lectures may be used as a pedagogical device; textbooks may be assigned and read. The difference is that course planning begins by focusing on the assignments, tests, and exams that will both teach and test what the teacher most wants students to know: the student learning outcomes (SLOs). The rest of the course is structured around these goals to help students learn what they need to know if they are to do well on the tests and assignments.

Regarding Student Learning Outcomes, the first step in formulating learning outcomes is to consider the course’s purpose within a degree program curriculum or to meet professional standards. Are there programmatic learning outcomes this course is responsible for fulfilling? What are the disciplinary or professional expectations of competence?


  1. Religious Studies - In designing a senior seminar in Religious Studies, the faculty member sought to have students both review and deepen their understandings of key text in the discipline and also produce a research paper. He organized the class meetings in a way that foregrounded the paper with various pieces due throughout the semester and supplemented the class discussion by having them read the two key books.
  2. Workforce Leadership - The BSWL program SLOs are based on 21 Workplace Learning and Performance standards developed by the American Society for Training ad Development (ASTD). In each of the 11 core courses in the BSWL program, selected standards are present. All 21 are represented throughout the curricula. Each core course has a Hallmark Assessment Task (HAT) assignment that measures the extent to which students are mastering the standards. Each standard is measured individually and we have an initial, midpoint, and final assessment that we conduct over the course of the program. As well, we are now using Live Text as an assessment repository to store our artifacts and we should be able to more accurately capture SLO data.
  3. English Internship - The SLOs for an internship in English are pretty nebulous. Basically we want students to think about how their habits of mind, cultivated as English majors, can be applied to situations outside of the English classroom. These habits include: careful reading with attention to context, tone, and detail; critical thinking in terms of recognizing one’s own biases, the possible biases of other speakers, acknowledgement of perspective, and awareness of the conventions of logic/ argumentations (evidence, faulty reasoning, etc.). We also want them to recognize the "cultural capital" they gain through exposure to and recognition of literary language and texts, as well as the rough outlines of cultural traditions that they’ve encountered through their curriculum as English majors.
  4. French Capstone - After taking French 590, students [will have reached] will be able to demonstrate an advanced linguistic and cultural competency in French as defined by The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages and will be in a position to evaluate and reflect critically on that competence; they will (have applied) be able to apply their linguistic and cultural skills and knowledge in a variety of environments, both inside and outside of the classroom; and they will be able to define more precisely what role French will play in their professional future.

Teaching Techniques/Tips

Writing student learning outcomes can be deceptively challenging. The key is to identify outcomes that are easily identifiable and demonstratable and measurable.

  • Sample template:
    As a result of participating in __________. -or-
    At the end of __________. -or-
    Upon completion of __________, students will be able to __________.
  • Student learning outcomes or SLOs are statements that specify what students will know, be able to do or be able to demonstrate when they have completed or participated in a program/activity/course/project. Outcomes are expressed as knowledge, skills, attitudes, or values.

Further Readings and Resources

  • Calder, L. (2006). "Uncoverage: Toward a Signature Pedagogy for the History Survey." The Journal of American History, 92(4), 1358-1370.
  • DeZure, D. (1999). "Structuring Assignments for Success,", Michigan State University in Whys and Ways of Teaching, Eastern Michigan University, Faculty Center for Instructional Excellence, Vol. 9, No. 1. Available at
  • Fink, D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrative approach to designing college courses. (San Francisco: Wiley), esp. Chapter 3.
  • Suskie, L. (2009). Assessing student learning: A common sense guide. (2nd ed). (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass).
  • Walvoord, B. & Anderson, V. (1998). "Making assignments worth grading," in Effective grading: A tool for learning and assessment. (New York: Jossey Bass).
  • Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. (Alexandria: VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.)

Resources on Writing Student Learning Outcomes and on Course Design

For more information on writing Student Learning Outcomes, please visit the University of Louisville Department of Institutional Effectiveness.

^ Top of Page