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Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome (SOLO)

The Structure of the Observed Learning Outcomes (SOLO) taxonomy offers a way of describing the growing complexity of a learnerís activity. It is based on the work of John Biggs. It can be used in two ways.

  1. To set learning objectives appropriate to where a student should be at a particular stage of their program.
  2. To assess the learning outcomes attained by each student.

When writing your course objectives ensure that the verbs you use correspond with the level of cognitive engagement appropriate for your students. The SOLO taxonomy lists levels of understanding and the indicative verbs associated with each level.

Level of Understanding: Pre-structural
No understanding demonstrated and approach involves acquiring disconnected bits of information. Student misses the point.

Level of Understanding: Uni-structural
Student shows concrete, reductive understanding of the topic. Simple and obvious connections are made but broader significance is not understood.
Indicative verbs:
identify, memorise, do simple procedure

Level of Understanding: Multi-structural
Student can understand several components but the understanding of each remains discreet. A number of connections are made but the significance of the whole is not determined. Ideas and concepts around an issue are disorganised and aren't related together
Indicative verbs:
enumerate, classify, describe, list, combine, do algorithms

Level of Understanding: Relational
Student can indicate connection between facts and theory, action and purpose. Shows understanding of several components which are integrated conceptually showing understanding of how the parts contribute to the whole. Can apply the concept to familiar problems or work situations.
Indicative verbs:
compare/contrast, explain causes, integrate, analyse, relate, apply

Level of Understanding: Extended Abstract
Student conceptualises at a level extending beyond what has been dealt with in the actual teaching. Understanding is transferable and generalisable to different areas.
Indicative verbs:
theorise, generalise, hypothesise, reflect, generate

(Based on RMIT SOLO taxonomy table and Atherton, J. S. (2005) Learning and Teaching: SOLO taxonomy) (links open in a new window).

The verbs you use in constructing your assignments can indicate the level of engagement you are requiring of your students.

Example: In the course objectives of the fictional  Leadership in Stationery Supply course, we can see a focus on higher order verbs such as apply, generate (develop), contrast. These verbs are primarily associated with relational understanding and are appropriate to a second year tertiary course.

This can be seen by highlighting the verbs in the learning objectives statement:
On completion of this course, a student should be able to: demonstrate an understanding of staff management techniques utilised within the Office Supply industry by applying concepts to explain examples. They will show understanding of international best practice by contrasting and evaluating different models of leadership. A student will be able to demonstrate the practical application of these concepts in group work assignments. They will be able to work with other students to identify and criticise management approaches in the field and be able to collaboratively develop alternative models of practice. A student will be able to work effectively in a team environment to solve problems of management practice.

Student achievement in this course can be assessed by evaluating the level of complexity displayed in their work and how well that aligns with the course objectives.


Additional resources:

(all links below open in a new window)

For further assistance in developing your program or courses in relation to graduate qualities, please contact the Academic Development team.