Goals, Outcomes and Objectives

Center for Teaching & Learning Excellence


Goals are commonly considered broad statements about what a university, college, program, or instructor wants students to achieve (typically over a lengthier time). These can frequently be found in strategic plans or course descriptions in university catalogs, handbooks, or websites.


Outcomes are statements that describe or list measurable and essential mastered content-knowledge—reflecting skills, competencies, and knowledge that students have attained and can demonstrate upon course completion. They demonstrate higher-level thinking skills that integrate course content and activities and can be observed as a behavior, skill, or discrete usable knowledge when the course is completed.


To meet course learning outcomes, we work with measurable, module-level objectives. Objectives are the actions that students should be able to complete upon completion of the module. Objectives are often structured the same way in every course: Upon completion of this module, students will… which is then followed by one of Bloom's Taxonomy's verbs and specific identifiers and limiters that assist students in understanding their goals and assist faculty in developing appropriate assessments.

Consider the SMART acronym when formulating measurable, module-level objectives. You may be aware of the use of SMART goals in organizational structures for businesses, but did you know that the same techniques can be used to create learning objectives? The SMART acronym has been used in education to develop goals more effectively.


All course content, learning activities, interactions and assessments should align with these objectives/outcomes. These relationships should be clearly explained to provide learning relevance to the learners (Knowles, 1984). Objectives should address what learners need to know when they complete the module, course, or program, and aligned activities and assessments should showcase how learners have achieved those objectives. Keep in mind that well-written learning objectives are made up of four parts:

The identity of the learner

The skill that you want the learner to demonstrate

The conditions under which the learner will demonstrate that skill

The criteria in place to measure mastery of that skill.

As you create your student performance objectives, remember to address the various levels within the cognitive domain. Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives - Cognitive Domain can help with this effort. The six areas from the lowest level of cognitive performance to the highest are as follows:

• Knowledge (mere recall of information)

• Comprehension (students are familiar with the meaning of the information to the extent of being able to make some use of it)

• Application
 (the act of applying some abstraction to a new or unique concrete example)

• Analysis (ability to break down an idea into its constituent elements or internal organizational principles, and to perceive relationships among those elements or principles within one "whole" or between several "wholes")

• Synthesis (creation of something new from previously existing elements or principles)

• Evaluation
 (formation of a judgment and the justification of that judgment by reference to facts, examples, or specific criteria)



Knowles, M. (1984). Andragogy in Action. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.