Glossary of Learning & Assessment Terms

Learning Terms

LEARNING THEME: a broad category of learning and/or development that provides direction and focus for daily practice across all departments within Student Affairs

Example: Interpersonal & Intrapersonal Competence

LEARNING OUTCOME: a more specific dimension of a learning theme; a learning goal that is developed over time through engagement in multiple learning experiences across the co-curriculum

Example: Leadership and teamwork

LEARNING OBJECTIVE: a statement that articulates the specific, observable, or measurable knowledge, skill, or attitude/value that should result from a student's participation in an intentionally designed learning experience

Example: As a result of participating in the Leadership 101 workshop, students will be able to name the five practices of exemplary leadership in Kouzes and Posner's Leadership Challenge model.

LEARNING EXPERIENCE: any program, service, event, or activity that promotes, supports, or contributes to student learning and development

Examples: workshops, retreats, training programs, courses, student activities, intramural sports, student organization involvement, student leadership positions, community service/service learning projects, internships/student employment

Assessment Terms

DIRECT METHOD: a process used to gather data that requires students to display their knowledge, skill, or attitude/value

Example: Students participate in a role-play at the end of a conflict resolution workshop while two professional staff members use a rubric to score the student's ability to use effective conflict resolution skills.

INDIRECT METHOD: a process used to gather data that asks students to self-report learning; serves as an indicator that learning took place

Example: Students report via survey that they learned effective conflict resolution skills from the workshop.


QUALITATIVE DATA: narrative data; useful for understanding depth and richness of learning experience

Examples: written reflections, focus groups, interviews, open response survey questions

QUANTITATIVE DATA: numerical data; useful for comparing and measuring across individual students or student populations

Examples: rubrics, checklists, pre-/post-tests, survey questions using Likert scales


OUTCOME-TO-PRACTICE ASSESSMENT: identifying needed or desired learning first, then developing a learning experience to meet that need and an assessment plan to measure achievement; uses the eight steps of the learning outcomes assessment process

Example: Multicultural Affairs staff identify a need to further develop students' appreciation of cultural and human differences (learning outcome). The staff determines the specific knowledge about, and attitude toward, diversity they hope to impact (learning objectives), determines what evidence they would need to indicate the objectives were met (assessment method), then designs a program that will impact the desired learning.

PRACTICE-TO-OUTCOME ASSESSMENT: identifying an existing learning experience, designing and implementing an assessment plan to find out what students are learning, then determining which learning outcomes were impacted

Example: The Student Government advisor has been informally observing for some time how much growth is occuring in the members of the student senate over the course of their term in office. She is interested in exploring in more detail what learning is actually taking place, and being able to document that learning. She develops and implements a plan to assess students' leadership skills at the beginning and end of their officer terms, then uses the data to determine where growth occured, which learning outcomes were impacted, and possible strategies to enhance the student senator experience.


FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT: assessment conducted and used during a learning experience; purpose is to provide feedback and improve learning along the way

Example: Resident Assistants complete a training program in August to develop the skills needed for the position. In November, the professional staff conduct an inservice to assess current skill levels and determine additional training needs. A spring training is then designed to meet those training needs.

SUMMATIVE ASSESSMENT: assessment conducted after a learning experience has been completed; purpose is to document learning, provide evidence of outcome achievement, and/or determine improvements needed for future learning experiences

Example: Students participate in a workshop series during a Wellness Week program, then complete a survey once the program has ended to determine if the learning objectives were met.

EMBEDDED ASSESSMENT: assessment conducted as part of the learning experience; method is built into the learning process

Example: Students participate in a week-long service-learning trip. Personal reflection time is built into each day's schedule to give students time to process and make meaning from their experiences. The students reflect by blogging their responses to pre-determined reflection prompts. At the end of the trip, a selection of blog entries is analyzed to determine what students learned from the experience.