Course Level Learning Goals and Objectives

In practice, you may see goals, objectives, and outcomes being used synonymously or interchangeably. But they are not quite the same!

Goals are overarching and should be thought of in a way that will capture what your students will gain long-term. (How will students be different after taking this course? Years later?) Goals are often located within the course description.

Objectives are always concrete and measureable.

Outcomes are students’ achieved results of your intended objectives.

If you think of it in terms of your favorite sports team, the objective is to win the game. However, that is not always the outcome!

Why are course level goals and objectives important? They engage our students in their own learning process!

  • They provide students with an overall map of the course and how it is situated in the larger learning of the major or program.
  • They support the department’s goals by encouraging consistency of student learning across several sections of the same course taught by different faculty.
  • They provide a way to clearly articulate what you expect your students to come away with. (That is, how will students be different after taking this course?)
  • They allow for faculty and instructors to assess the impact of teaching strategies.

Dimensions of Good Course Objectives:

  • Learner focus: Is the focus on what students will be able to do, rather than what the course or instructor will do?
  • Clarity: Are they clear and free of jargon?
  • Specificity: Are they brief, yet specific enough to provide direction for instruction?
  • Measurability: Are these things that you can measure or directly observe? Is there a clear and shared understanding of how to recognize whether and at what level the students have met the objective? (Words to avoid: learn, know, believe, appreciate, enjoy)


  1. Students will be able to write a research paper in full APA style following the completion of research methods lab.
  2. Students will be able to identify major figures and ideas from the Hellenistic period.

How to make the most of your course goals and objectives

  • Discuss learning goals and course objectives clearly with your students!
  • It’s not enough to have them on the course description or syllabus. They are written with mindful intention so that students clearly understand what the learning looks like and your expectations for them. It is important to share that with them.
  • Broader course goals set the overall learning map, objectives articulate the course learning to students as more concrete, tangible and measureable markers that lead to more successful outcomes.
  • Model what meeting your expectation looks like.
  • Let them know what kind of thinking you want them to engage in.  Then let them practice meeting the mark with low stakes opportunities at first and provide your expert feedback.
  • Provide students with opportunities for self-reflection. Discussing learning goals and objectives with students changes the student conversation from "what am I taking this semester" to what am I learning.  This helps students plan their time at Mount Holyoke and beyond!