Writing Learning Goals

Having learning goals, whether they be program outcomes, course outcomes, or learning objectives for a specific activity, helps make learning clearer to everyone involved. Clear learning goals can:

  • Help students better understand how to do well on assessments. 
  • Build trust with students through transparency.
  • Aid students in managing their own learning processes. 
  • Help a teaching team standardize class content between sections and over time.

Program & Course Outcomes

In the College of Letters & Science, the majority of academic departments and programs have clearly specified Program Outcomes. In addition, many courses have specific Course Outcomes. These Program and Course Outcomes are part of course and program approval processes, are often created and revised over time by a skilled team of instructors, and are available publicly.

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See an Example of Program Outcomes

Like many programs in L&S, the B.A. in African Cultural Studies specifies Program Outcomes in The Guide. For example, “Recognize canonical authors and texts, historical forms, genres, and structures, and recognize aesthetic and cultural concerns in Africa and its diasporas” is a primary Program Outcome, as shown below.

Screenshot of the link above showing program outcomes for the B.A. in African Cultural Studies

See an Example of Course Outcomes

In many programs or departments, students can view Course Outcomes from the department website or when registering for classes using the Course Search & Enroll tool by clicking on “Instructor Provided Content”. For example, for Communication Arts 260 in “Instructor Provided Content” students can see Course Outcomes including, “Analyze real life communication concerns, questions, and problems using insights from scholarly communication research” as shown below.

Screenshot showing Course Outcomes for Communication Arts 260 in Instructor Provided Content

For guidance on writing and specifying Program and Course Outcomes, please see Writing Student Learning Outcomes from the Provost’s Office. Remember that these outcomes can form an important foundation for writing learning goals for specific units or activities in your course. Goals for a smaller chunk of course content should align with a larger-scale course outcome. In turn, course outcomes will often align with your program’s outcomes. 

Learning Objectives

When writing (or re-writing) learning objectives or goals for a unit or activity within your course, you will need to consider your course outcomes, your course content, and any activities you already use. Your end goal in writing clear learning objectives is to specify what you want students to know or be able to do at the end of a unit or activity. 

Qualities of Clear Learning Objectives:

  • Clearly written in plain, simple language that instructors, students, and employers understand
  • Observable, written using action verbs, and describing an end state that can be deemed successfully reached
  • Focused on skills rather than knowledge or understanding 
  • Relevant and significant to students 
  • Fit the scope of the course, unit, or activity

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See Example Learning Objectives

The following learning objectives are from a variety of disciplines, and are written at a variety of levels of difficulty. The examples below are organized from simpler to more complex objectives.

  1. Recognize key components of surrealism when examining works of art.
  2. Summarize the relationship between variation and correlation.
  3. Demonstrate use of the chain rule when differentiating composite functions.
  4. Compare the use of preterite and subjunctive forms for writing in the past tense.
  5. Critique the effectiveness of the “reduce, reuse, recycle” campaign in the United States.
  6. Design a research model to study the effectiveness of MDMA in treating PTSD.

Using Bloom’s Taxonomy

Bloom’s Taxonomy was originally published in 1956 as Taxonomy of Educational Objectives and has been widely used and revised since then. It provides a structure for writing learning objectives based around verbs, and organizes these verbs in a hierarchy of complexity. Using Bloom’s when you write or revise learning objectives helps ensure they are observable and that they fit the scope of your course and are attainable for students. 

Please review the diagram below of the cognitive domain, and make your own copy of our Bloom’s Taxonomy handout. which includes the cognitive and affective domains. You may find that both domains can apply to your course material, though the cognitive domain is usually the best fit.

Bloom's Taxonomy is a hierarchy of complexity, ordered from simple to more complex: Remember, Understand, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, Create.

Choosing activities or assessments as evidence of learning

Writing clear learning objectives is very related to the activities and assessment you lead. Ideally, all assessments and activities connect to one or more of your learning goals for students, and completing these assessments and activities provides both an instructor and students with evidence of learning. More formal or summative assessments likely comprise students’ grades. Less formal or formative assessments help instructors and students understand the learning process.

Once you’ve written or revised your learning objectives using Bloom’s Taxonomy, these verbs can help suggest activities or assessments that will provide you and students with evidence of learning. See the examples below for the six levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain.

Remember:

    • Questions that ask students to define, label, or list

Understand:

    • Questions that ask students to describe, explain, summarize, identify, or select
    • Student reports or presentations

Apply:

    • Questions that ask students to apply, solve, demonstrate, or employ
    • Problem sets

Analyze:

    • Questions that ask students to analyze, compare, examine, distinguish between, or test
    • Lab reports based on analyzing data and observations
    • Writing assignments that analyze case studies, experiences, readings, etc.

Evaluate:

    • Questions that ask students to evaluate, argue, assess, defend, judge, predict, rate, or support an argument
    • Writing assignments that evaluate complex positions or policies, or make future predictions

Create:

    • Questions that ask students to develop, plan, propose, design, create, or assemble
    • Portfolio assignments where students collect a body of work
    • Presentations, exhibits, or art installations
    • Projects where students design or build a model

Suggested process for writing and refining learning objectives

Writing or revising learning objectives can be messy, as it requires assimilating information from many places. This process may not look the same for every instructor, but our worksheet suggests a place to start. Make your own copy of our Learning Goals Drafting Worksheet. As you use this worksheet, refer back to information in this guide. 

Connect with Help

To learn more, brainstorm for your course, or get help implementing your ideas, please schedule a consultation. We are happy to help you adapt any of our resources for use with your course.

References & Further Reading

Published June 2022