Office of Institutional Research and Assessment

Learning Outcomes

The Mason Core

The Mason Core is designed to complement work in a student’s chosen area of study. These classes serve as a means of discovery for students, providing a foundation for learning, connecting to potential new areas of interest and building tools for success in whatever field a student pursues. Learning outcomes are guided by the qualities every student should develop as they move toward graduating with a George Mason degree. Through a combination of courses, the Mason Core program helps students to become:

Critical and Creative Scholars

Students who have a love of and capacity for learning. Their understanding of fundamental principles in a variety of disciplines, and their mastery of quantitative and communication tools, enables them to think creatively and productively. They are inquisitive, open-minded, capable, informed, and able to integrate diverse bodies of knowledge and perspectives.

Self-Reflective Learners

Students who develop the capacity to think well. They can identify and articulate individual beliefs, strengths and weaknesses, critically reflect on these beliefs and integrate this understanding into their daily living.

Ethical, Inquiry-Based Citizens

Students who are tolerant and understanding. They can conceptualize and communicate about problems of local, national and global significance, using research and evaluative perspectives to contribute to the common good.

Thinkers and Problem-Solvers

Students who are able to discover and understand natural, physical, and social phenomena; who can articulate their application to real world challenges; and who approach problem-solving from various vantage points. They can demonstrate capability for inquiry, reason, and imagination and see connections in historical, literary and artistic fields.

Mason Core Learning Outcomes

Interdisciplinary faculty groups develop common learning outcomes for each category across courses and disciplines. Once these learning outcomes are approved by the Mason Core Committee, they become the basis for learning outcomes assessment. Faculty who teach Mason Core courses are expected to include these learning outcomes in their syllabi, in addition to their course specific learning outcomes. The assessment process focuses on demonstrating that these common learning outcomes are emphasized and that student learning in these areas is assessed in the course.

Students who successfully complete a course in the Arts category must meet the first learning outcome and a minimum of two of the remaining four learning outcomes:

  1. Demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between artistic process, and a work’s underlying concept, and where appropriate, contexts associated with the work.
  2. Identify and analyze the formal elements of a particular art form using vocabulary and critique appropriate to that form.
  3. Analyze cultural productions using standards appropriate to the form, as well as the works cultural significance and context.
  4. Analyze and interpret the content of material or performance culture through its social, historical, and personal contexts.
  5. Engage in generative artistic processes, including conception, creation, and ongoing critical analysis.

Critical Thinking
Critical thinking is a higher order thinking skill exhibited in context. At the college level, it is learned, developed and finds formal expression within contexts represented by academic disciplines. Nonetheless, because critical thinking is a transferable skill, there are core meanings of critical thinking that transcend disciplines. The following components of critical thinking were identified by an interdisciplinary team of faculty as the essential criteria by which critical thinking should be judged at George Mason:

  • Identify important questions/problems/issue.
  • Analyze, interpret and make judgments about the relevance and quality of information.
  • Assess assumptions and consider alternative perspectives/solutions.
  • Draw conclusions and make judgments based on evidence gathered.
  • Be engaged with their topic/idea.
  • Integrate ideas into a coherent argument/solution/presentation, etc.
  • Communicate the results of their thinking.

Revised in fall 2006

Critical thinking is currently assessed via student work products, reviewed according to the Critical Thinking Rubric (revised Fall 2011).

Global Understanding
The goals of Global Understanding are accomplished through disciplinary or inter-disciplinary study with the following three learning outcomes:

  1. Demonstrate understanding of global patterns and processes;
  2. Demonstrate understanding of the interconnectedness, difference, and diversity of a global society;
  3. Explore individual and collective responsibilities within a global society through analytical, practical, or creative responses to problems or issues, using resources appropriate to the field.

Information Technology
Almost no area of academic, professional, or personal life is untouched by the information technology revolution. Success in college and beyond requires computer and information literacies that are flexible enough to change with a changing IT environment and adaptable to new problems and tasks.

The purpose of the information technology requirement is to ensure that students achieve an essential understanding of information technology infrastructure encompassing systems and devices; learn to make the most of the Web and other network resources; protect their digital data and devices; take advantage of latest technologies; and become more sophisticated technology users and consumers.

Courses meeting the “IT only” requirement must address learning outcomes 1 and 2, and one additional outcome. Courses meeting “IT with Ethics component” must address outcomes 1, 2, 3, and 5. Courses meeting the only IT Ethics component must address outcomes 3 and 5.

  1. Students will be able to use technology to locate, access, evaluate, and use information, and appropriately cite resources from digital/electronic media.
  2. Students will understand the core IT concepts in a range of current and emerging technologies and learn to apply appropriate technologies to a range of tasks.
  3. Students will understand many of the key ethical, legal and social issues related to information technology and how to interpret and comply with ethical principles, laws, regulations, and institutional policies.
  4. Students will demonstrate the ability to communicate, create, and collaborate effectively using state-of-the-art information technologies in multiple modalities.
  5. Students will understand the essential issues related to information security, how to take precautions and use techniques and tools to defend against computer crimes.

Revised in spring 2010


  1. Students will be able to read for comprehension, detail, and nuance.
  2. Identify the specific literary qualities of language as employed in the texts they read.
  3. Analyze the ways specific literary devices contribute to the meaning of a text.
  4. Identify and evaluate the contribution of the social, political, historical, and cultural contexts in which a literary text is produced.
  5. Evaluate a critical argument in others’ writing as well as one’s own.

Natural Science

The Mason Core natural sciences courses engage students in scientific exploration; Foster their curiosity; enhance their enthusiasm for science; and enable them to apply scientific knowledge and reasoning to personal, professional and public decision-making. Lab courses must meet all five learning outcomes. Non-lab courses must meet learning outcomes 1 through 4.

  1. Understand how scientific inquiry is based on investigation of evidence from the natural world, and that scientific knowledge and understanding: a) evolves based on new evidence, and b) differs from personal and cultural beliefs.
  2. Recognize the scope and limits of science.
  3. Recognize and articulate the relationship between the natural sciences and society and the application of science to societal challenges (e.g., health, conservation, sustainability, energy, natural disasters, etc.).
  4. Evaluate scientific information (e.g., distinguish primary and secondary sources, assess credibility and validity of information).
  5. Participate in scientific inquiry and communicate the elements of the process, including: a) making careful and systematic observations, b) developing and testing a hypothesis, c) analyzing evidence, and d) Interpreting results.

Lab courses must meet all five of the above learning outcomes. Non-lab courses must meet learning outcomes one through four.

Revised November 7 2011

Oral Communication
Oral communication competency at George Mason University is defined as the ability to use oral communication as a way of thinking and learning as well as sharing ideas with others. The Mason Core program identifies numerous learning goals in oral communication which are addressed specifically in two Communication courses, COMM 100, Public Speaking, and COMM 101, Interpersonal and Group Interaction. Upon completion of these courses, students will be able to:

  1. Students will demonstrate understanding of and proficiency in constructing and delivering multiple message types.
  2. Students will understand and practice effective elements of ethical verbal and nonverbal communication.
  3. Students will develop analytical skills and critical listening skills.
  4. Students will understand the influence of culture in communication and will know how to cope with cultural differences when presenting information to an audience. Students develop the ability to use oral communication as a way of thinking and learning, as well as sharing ideas.

Revised in fall 2012

Quantitative Reasoning
The quantitative reasoning learning outcomes are:

  1. Students are able to interpret quantitative information (i.e., formulas, graphs, tables, models, and schematics) and draw inferences from them.
  2. Given a quantitative problem, students are able to formulate the problem quantitatively and use appropriate arithmetical, algebraic, and/or statistical methods to solve the problem.
  3. Students are able to evaluate logical arguments using quantitative reasoning.
  4. Students are able to communicate and present quantitative results effectively.

Revised in summer 2007

Social and Behavioral Sciences
The following three learning outcomes are required goals of disciplinary or interdisciplinary courses:

  1. Explain how individuals, groups or institutions are influenced by contextual factors;
  2. Demonstrate awareness of changes in social and cultural constructs;
  3. Use appropriate methods and resources to apply social and behavioral science concepts, terminology, principles and theories in the analysis of significant human issues, past or present.

The purpose of the synthesis course is to provide students with the opportunity to synthesize the knowledge, skills and values gained from the Mason Core curriculum. Synthesis courses strive to expand students’ ability to master new content, think critically, and develop life-long learning skills across the disciplines. While it is not feasible to design courses that cover “all” areas of the Mason Core, synthesis courses should function as a careful alignment of disciplinary goals with a range of general education learning outcomes.

A Mason Core synthesis course must address outcomes 1 and 2, and at least one outcome under 3. Upon completing a synthesis course, students will be able to:

  1. Communicate effectively in both oral and written forms, applying appropriate rhetorical standards (e.g., audience adaptation, language, argument, organization, evidence, etc.)
  2. Using perspectives from two or more disciplines, connect issues in a given field to wider intellectual, community or societal concerns
  3. Apply critical thinking skills to:
    1. Evaluate the quality, credibility and limitations of an argument or a solution using appropriate evidence or resources, OR,
    2. Judge the quality or value of an idea, work, or principle based on appropriate analytics and standards

Western Civilization
Courses must meet at least three of the five learning outcomes.

  1. Demonstrate familiarity with the major chronology of Western civilization or world history.
  2. Demonstrate the ability to narrate and explain long-term changes and continuities in Western civilization or world history.
  3. Identify, evaluate, and appropriately cite online and print resources.
  4. Develop multiple historical literacies by analyzing primary sources of various kinds (texts, images, music) and using these sources as evidence to support interpretation of historical events.
  5. Communicate effectively— through speech, writing, and use of digital media—their understanding of patterns, process, and themes in the history of Western civilization or the world.

Written Communication
Written communication is one of the foundation requirements of Mason’s Mason Core curriculum.

Mason’s nationally recognized writing program emphasizes writing as a process: it is not simply a way of communicating already formulated thoughts, but a way of discovering, exploring and developing new ideas. On their way to completing a paper, students go through the recursive processes of researching, drafting, and revising; at all stages they engage in critical thinking.

Students who successfully complete one or more writing-intensive courses in their major will be able to:

  • Analyze and synthesize course content using methods appropriate to the major
  • Make reasoned, well-organized arguments with introductions, thesis statements, supporting evidence, and conclusions appropriate to the major
  • Use credible evidence, to include, as applicable, data from credible primary and/or secondary sources, integrated and documented accurately according to styles preferred in the major
  • Employ rhetorical strategies suited to the purpose(s) and audience(s) for the writing, to include appropriate vocabulary, voice, tone, and level of formality
  • Produce writing that employs the organizational techniques, formats, and genres (print and/or digital) typical in the major and/or workplace
  • Produce writing that demonstrates proficiency in standard edited American English, including correct grammar/syntax, sentence structure, word choice, and punctuation

 Revised February 2008


For more information about the Mason Core program, see the University Catalog.