Course competencies describe the large domains of knowledge that you expect students to command by the end of your course. Course competencies should be broad and conceptual in scope. They should be stated as nouns or noun phases because they are what students will have or be by the end of your course. Because of their size, course competencies are typically difficult to measure; they encompass too many dimensions. Nevertheless, they are an important part of communicating to students what the main thrust of the course is and what they should have in their intellectual tool box when they end the course.
Every syllabus should offer students a clear indication of the course competencies. For some courses, one competency is sufficient. For example, in an introductory accounting course, a reasonable course competency might be “A Command of the Foundational Knowledge of Accounting.” In a supply chain management course, a course competency might read, “The Ability to Analyze and Streamline Processes to Optimize Business Operations.”
In some cases, one course competency may not summarize the thrust of the course adequately, necessitating two or more course competencies. Observe the following example from a course on American consumerism (not a Kelley School course). The manner in which the competencies are stated may be useful as a model, as these, in contrast to the examples above, state what students should be learning upon completing the course.
L416. Perspectives on American Consumerism
- Students who complete the course should emerge as competent and professional seminar participants.
- Students who complete the course should emerge as more reflective and thoughtful consumers.
- Students who complete the course should emerge as better writers.
These large domains indicate to students where the course intends to take them.
Course-level student learning outcomes are the specific knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes instructors expect students to acquire or master by the end of a given course. Clearly articulated course student learning outcomes indicate observable student performance and at the same time suggest measurement. These outcomes, stated in terms of what students should be able to do, are necessarily articulated with verbs and together describe the competencies students must master in order to reach the course goal. Typically, a course will have three to six course-level student learning outcomes. Each of them should support mastery of the course competency.
You should place your course competency(s) and student learning outcomes together early on in your syllabus, preferably on page one or two of the document or web page. These are the foundational ideas of your course, and as such, should be front and center for your students to see.
Tips for writing measurable learning outcomes
Writing student learning outcomes that suggest measurement can be challenging, particularly when the outcome involves qualitative work. The following are a few tips for you to consider when writing student learning outcomes.
- Consider the essential knowledge, skills and/or attitudes students should command as a result of taking your course.
To get started, you may wish to ask yourself, “What should my students be able to do by the end of the course that they couldn’t do before?” Or, alternately, “If a student couldn’t do __________ by the end of the course, I would be sorely disappointed.”
- Avoid teacherly thinking.
For many, the process of writing student learning outcomes begins with “teacherly” thinking: we think about what content we will teach and as a result, what our students should know, understand, be exposed to, or appreciate. Here are some typical examples of teacherly thinking about learning outcomes from business disciplines:
Understanding the concept of the time value of money.
We will learn the basics of financial accounting.
Students will be exposed to the principal methods of ethical thinking in business.
The problem with teacherly outcomes is that they remain focused on the inputs in the classroom, that is, what you will teach. In order to do the work of assessment, however, learning outcomes must be stated in the learner's terms. Although instructors surely know what they mean when they say teacherly terms such as understand, know, be exposed to, and appreciate, students do not.
- Frame student learning outcomes around what students must be able to do.
Such articulation will help learners know what is expected of them. It will also turn the actual measurement of the learning outcomes for assessment into a very straightforward process.
Now that we’ve looked at some tips, let’s reframe the three examples above in the learner’s terms:
Students will be able to recommend the best investment strategy for a firm by analyzing various investment options using the concept of TVM.
Given a series of business events, students will be able to create the four basic documents of financial accounting and explain how they relate to one another.
Students will be able to describe the principal methods of ethical thinking in a brief paragraph in their own words.
Notice the persistent use of the phrase “students will be able to.” Use of this stem nearly guarantees that the student learning outcome will be phrased in terms that learners can readily understand. It also suggests what we can look at and measure for assessment purposes. Notice also that the verbs used are all actions we can evaluate. We can look at and assess, for instance, how well a student analyzes investment options and we can evaluate how well a student explains or describes something. Be sure to avoid words that cannot be evaluated such as “understand” or “know”—these vague terms make assessment very difficult because they do not point to any particular measurable action.
Each of Kelley’s degree-granting programs has a set of four to seven program competencies that articulate in broad strokes the knowledge, skills, and attitudes students should command upon graduation from that program. These macro-level competencies support the mission of the Kelley School of Business and have been created and endorsed by the faculty.
To make it possible to measure students’ progress toward the learning articulated by the program competencies, each competency is broken down into three to six student learning outcomes (SLOs). It is through observation of individual student performance on each of the SLOs that faculty determine the extent to which students are mastering the learning competencies set forth by the program.
As a Kelley instructor, you are required to attach the appropriate set of program competencies and SLOs to your syllabus as an appendix.
Step 1: Include your course competencies and student learning outcomes directly in the body of your syllabus, preferably early in the document to highlight their importance.
Here is an example of a course competency and its attendant student learning outcomes:
The goal of this course is to help you learn the skills and knowledge needed to perform professional data analysis. Accordingly, by the end of the course, you should be able to:
- Develop an Excel spreadsheet given a data set
- Analyze data to solve a business problem
- Recommend a solution to the problem
- Communicate your solution in clear, concise writing
Step 2: Identify which program competencies and SLOs are addressed by which course learning outcomes.
Append the program competencies for the program in which your course is taught to your syllabus and refer to it.
Next, look at your course student learning outcomes and determine which of the program's competencies and student learning outcomes are addressed by your course. Bear in mind, some of your course learning outcomes may not link to any at the program level. That's perfectly OK.
Step 3: Connect your course learning outcomes to the corresponding program competency(s) and SLOs with a table or parenthetical reference.
Remember that it is not necessary or expected that every learning outcome link to a program-wide competency and SLO. Similarly, it is neither expected nor recommended that all program competencies be addressed by a course's learning outcomes. Typically, two or three program-level SLOs at the most will be supported by the course's learning outcomes. At least one of your course learning outcomes must relate to a program student learning outcome and competency.
Be sure to explain to students what the parenthetical reference is and where they can reference the program competencies and SLOs.
Here's what the above example might look like:
By the end of this course, you should be able to develop an Excel spreadsheet to analyze a data set related to a business problem. Based on your analysis, you should be able to recommend a sound solution to the problem to a superior in clear, concise writing. [These learning outcomes support learning goals 5 (Quantitative Analysis and Modeling—SLO 5.1 and 5.2) and 4 (Communication and Leadership—SLO 4.2) of the undergraduate program. A complete listing of learning goals and SLOs for the undergraduate program may be found in the appendix to this syllabus.]
Another way to organize the relationships for your students is to create a table showing how the course learning outcomes relate to program competencies and learning outcomes.
Course Learning Outcome
Undergraduate Program Competency
Undergraduate Program SLO
By the end of this course, you should be able to develop an Excel spreadsheet to analyze a data set related to a business problem.
Competency 5: Quantitative Analysis
SLO 5.1: Use appropriate technology to solve a given business problem.
SLO 5.2: Analyze business problems using appropriate mathematical theories and techniques.
Based on your analysis, you should be able to recommend a sound solution to the problem in clear, concise writing.
Competency 4: Communication and Leadership
SLO 4.2: Write clear, concise, and audience-centered business documents