What are the Essential Learning Outcomes that I Should be Thinking About in my Teaching?

ta's picture
Increasing Student Success

In considering what you want your students to take away from their experiences in your class, you should consider whether your course goals meet any or all of these Essential Learning Outcomes.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) has identified as set of Essential Learning Outcomes (ELOs) for a liberal arts education.  These ELOs are intended to serve as a guide map for students' learning objectives.  While it is unlikely that any one single course is going to meet all of these ELOs, it is useful to consider how our course objectives and instructional practices help students achieve these goals.  According to the AACU, beginning in school, and continuing at successively higher levels across their college studies, students should prepare for twenty-first-century challenges by gaining:

Knowledge of Human Cultures and the Physical and Natural World

  • Through study in the sciences and mathematics, social sciences, humanities, histories, languages, and the arts

Focused by engagement with big questions, both contemporary and enduring

Intellectual and Practical Skills, Including

  • Inquiry and analysis
  • Critical and creative thinking
  • Written and oral communication
  • Quantitative literacy
  • Information, media, and technology literacy
  • Teamwork and problem solving

Practiced extensively, across the curriculum, in the context of progressively more challenging problems, projects, and standards for performance

Personal and Social Responsibility, Including

  • Civic knowledge and engagement—local and global
  • Intercultural knowledge and competence
  • Ethical reasoning and action
  • Foundations and skills for lifelong learning

Anchored through active involvement with diverse communities and real-world challenges

Integrative Learning, Including

  • Synthesis and advanced accomplishment across general and specialized studies

Demonstrated through the application of knowledge, skills, and responsibilities to new settings and complex problems


On their website, the AAC&U lists seven principles of excellence and they also provide an overview of some suggested high-impact teaching practices.

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jhenriqu's picture

Start by examining what you are already doing

I would suggest that as a first step in thinking about what you can do in your teaching to meet these ELO's that instructors reflect on what they are already doing.  I suspect that without realizing it we are already addressing some of these ELO's in our courses and/or we could meet some ELO's by simply being more mindful of these goals as we think about our teaching. I would also encourage readers to consider the Chancellor's Strategic Priorities and Initiatives.

Jeff Henriques
UW Teaching Academy

ambrower's picture

Here's the ELO version that our campus has adapted & adopted

We've been working with the ELOs for about 2 years, getting feedback from departments, programs and individuals concerning how they are, and can be, used.  They're now an integral part of our Wisconsin Experience.  Here's the link to the WI Experience/ELO framework.