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Course Objectives & Learning Outcomes

Course objectives are clear and concise statements that describe what you intend your students to learn by the end of the course. The difference between course objectives and learning outcomes—and the reason these terms are so often conflated with each other—is the former describes an intended state (what you hope your students will learn), whereas the latter expresses a present or observed state (what your students actually learned).

Both course objectives and learning outcomes are distinct from learning goals, which are more broadly conceived. For an excellent overview of the distinctions between goals, objectives and outcomes, see this helpful two-page PDF from Arizona State University.

In 2012, DePaul’s faculty council and provost approved six university-wide learning goals and related outcomes. In addition to these broad goals, each college and school maintains learning outcomes for graduates of their programs.

Even though you are not required to, you should explicitly state your course objectives and/or student learning outcomes in your syllabus.
By doing so, you can

  • more easily align objectives with course content and evaluation methods;
  • clearly communicate your expectations of students;
  • establish a logical sequence of learning milestones;
  • allow both you and your students to self-evaluate based on stated expectations;
  • provide an opportunity for students to make connections across courses and institutional goals.

The most useful learning outcomes are specific and measurable. According to Diamond (1998), they should contain the following three things:

  1. A verb that describes an observable action
  2. A description of the conditions under which the action take place: “when given x, you will be able to?”
  3. The acceptable performance level

Diamond further proposes a very simple way to write good outcomes: take on the role of your student and ask yourself, “What do I have to do to convince you that I’m where you want me to be at the end of this lesson, unit or course?”

Read more online

  • Learning outcomes resources from DePaul’s Office for Teaching, Learning and Assessment
    • Includes a guide, checklist and list of helpful action verbs for describing learning
    • TLA supports the Assessment Certificate Program—a unique collaboration between DePaul and Loyola universities— providing professional development opportunities for faculty and staff in the field of assessment
  • A model of learning objectives – Excellent visualization incorporating action verbs from Bloom’s Taxonomy by Iowa State University’s Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching
  • Sample learning objectives from multiple disciplines at Carnegie Mellon University
  • Articulate your learning objectives, also from Carnegie Mellon, explains the importance of aligning learning objectives with instructional strategies and assessment techniques

Further Reading

Diamond, R. (1998). "Clarifying Instructional Goals and Objectives." In Designing and Assessing Courses and Curricula: A Practical Guide (Revised ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.*

* The above title is available for checkout from the Office for Teaching, Learning and Assessment’s lending library.

Further Resources

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