Recommended Student Learning Outcomes for Intro Psych

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The American Psychological Association’s Board of Educational Affairs, at the behest of the Committee on Associate and Baccalaureate Education, convened a working group under the title Introductory Psychology Initiative (IPI). The working group was tasked with sorting out four major areas related to the Intro Psych course. First, can we, as a discipline, please agree on a set of student learning outcomes? And while we’re at it, can we have some sample assessments for measuring those outcomes? Second, what are some different ways the course can be structured? Third, what sort of training should there be for Intro Psych instructors, and how can we deliver that training? And fourth, how can what students learn in Intro Psych help them succeed in their courses, in their careers, and in their lives?


The IPI working group will be rolling out recommendations over the coming months. First up are the student learning outcomes.


By the end of the introductory psychology course, students should be able to:


- Identify basic concepts and research findings, and give examples of psychology's integrative themes.


Psychological science relies on empirical evidence adapting as new data develop.


Psychology explains general principles that govern behavior, while recognizing individual differences.


Psychological, biological, social, and cultural factors influence mental processes and behavior.


Our perceptions filter experience of the world through an imperfect personal lens.


Applying psychological principles can change our lives in positive ways.


- Apply psychological principles to everyday life.

- Draw appropriate, logical, and objective conclusions about behavior and mental processes from empirical evidence.

- Evaluate misconceptions or erroneous behavioral claims based on evidence from psychological science.

- Design, conduct, or evaluate basic psychological research. 

- Describe ethical principles that guide psychologists in research and therapy.


For a seasoned Intro Psych instructor, there is probably nothing in here that is too shocking. As you read through the themes, the content you currently cover in your course likely already fits these themes. What we’re asking is that the themes be made explicit to students. While students may not remember years later much specific content, such as Piaget’s third stage of development, we would love students to remember these larger themes.

In the psychological research student learning outcome, we recognize that different instructors working with different class sizes and student populations, such as honors courses, will decide to do different things. Perhaps you want students to design a basic study, correctly applying independent variables and dependent variables. Or perhaps you want your students to conduct a basic study, inside or outside the class. Or perhaps you would like your students to read a summary of a less-than-well-designed study and identify some of the flaws. In all cases, students will gain an appreciation for what is involved in doing psychological science.

Where I expect most Intro Psych instructors to say, “Oooo, I haven’t been teaching that,” is the ethical principles that guide therapists. A lot of Intro Psych textbooks cover the ethics of research, but not the ethics of therapy. Intro Psych students will likely encounter a therapist sometime in their lives—whether it be for themselves, a family member, a friend, or a co-worker/employee. Intro Psych students should know what ethical guidelines therapists are expected to follow and to know when those ethical guidelines have been breached. For myself, I will take it one step beyond the listed student learning outcome and ask my students to identify some next steps they can take if they believe a therapist has acted unethically—once I figure out what those are myself.

This is the first time the discipline of psychology has a set of student learning outcomes for Intro Psych. Try them out. Let us know what you think.

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About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology since 1992. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed. and is co-author with Charles Stangor on Introduction to Psychology, 4.0.