What is the difference between an SLO and a learning objective?
I’m going to take a stab at answering this question, but my intent is to spur further discussion rather than put this question to rest. Typically, course-level SLOs should be broader than course-level learning objectives. While objectives may list the minutiae of facts and skills that will be learned in a course, outcomes are deliberately phrased in behavioral terms (in other words, what students will actually be able to do upon successfully completing the course). In more specific terms, a particular ESL course may have upwards of 10-15 learning objectives that could be condensed into 4-7 student learning outcomes.
To illustrate, take a look at the following learning objectives from a credit advanced-level ESL writing course:
- Formulate ideas on a topic of choice and narrow the ideas to a single workable topic.
- Organize ideas into a structured format such as outlines, clusters, mapping, or graphic organizers.
- Write coherent, unified paragraphs in a variety of organizational patterns.
Now, we could ostensibly condense three objectives into one workable SLO statement that summarizes what students can do:
“Students will be able to employ a variety of prewriting strategies and write genre-specific coherent, cohesive paragraphs.”
So, one way to view the SLO vs. Objectives issue is to consider that objectives are statements of fact about the specific learning goals of the course, whereas the student learning outcome is simply the articulation of what a student can do now that he/she has completed the course and mastered the various objectives that were taught.
In one sense, the SLO vs. Objectives argument is like examining two sides of the same coin. Objectives often boil down to a list of content that the course will cover. Outcomes boil down to a list of behaviors that students can do once they master the objectives…Let’s continue this discussion!