Goals, Outcomes and Objectives

Center for Teaching & Learning Excellence

In order 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 the Bloom’s Taxonomy verbs and the specific identifiers and limiters that help students know their goals and help faculty create appropriate assessments.

One way to think about measurable, module-level objectives is to consider the SMART acronym.

You may have heard of SMART goals being used in business structures, but did you know that these same strategies can be applied to writing learning objectives? In education, we’ve adopted the SMART acronym as a way to better develop objectives.

Let’s start with an example of an objective from a freshman-level political science course and apply the SMART principles to make it more effective.

Original Objective: Students will become familiar with immigration policy.

Specific –In the example above, we can all agree that this is far too broad of an objective. Let’s make a few minor changes that will have major impacts.

Revised for Specifics: Students will become familiar with current U.S. immigration policies.

We made it more specific by including the specifics of both the time period, current, and the location, the United States.

Measurable – When we talk about objective writing, measurability is key. In our example, can we measure to what extent a student is familiar with the topic? Not really. Let’s turn to our list of action verbs to address measurability.

Revised for Measurability: Students will analyze current U.S. immigration policies.

That’s better because we are already thinking about what assessments could help us measure a student’s ability to analyze U.S. immigration policies. Now let’s check the next section: Achievability.

Achievable – Achievability refers to how reasonable our expectations are. Consider the revision we made from will become familiar with to will analyze. When we talk about cognitive levels, that’s a significant jump. It’s measurable, but is it something we can expect our learners to achieve? This will depend on your class, but it’s important to be realistic. For this example, considering the complexity of U.S. immigration policies and the level of the course, it’s probably not achievable. Let’s revise.

Revised for Achievability: Students will summarize current U.S. immigration policies.

We’ve now revised the verb to reflect a lower level of cognition, which is more appropriate for the module.