Learning Goals

Learning Goals Overview

Articulating the learning goals for your course is essential for designing, delivering, and assessing it.

A note on terminology: The academy uses a number of possible terms for this concept, including course goals, course outcomes, learning outcomes, learning objectives, and more, with fine distinctions among them. With respect for that ongoing discussion, given that the new Stanford course evaluations are focused on assessing learning goals, we will use "learning goals" when discussing what you want your students to be able to do or demonstrate at the end of your class.

What to Include in Learning Goals

Given the topic and level of your course, first think about the following:

  • Ideas students will understand (e.g., theories, approaches, perspectives, and other broad themes in your field)
  • Information to apply in problem-solving (e.g., equations, facts, and other kinds of core knowledge)
  • Skills to develop (e.g., laboratory skills, problem-solving skills, creative skills, writing skills)
  • Some faculty also ask what attitudes they want students to develop as a result of their course, such as love of the field; a critical, questioning stance toward texts; or an appreciation of cultural differences.

How to Phrase Learning Goals

Now turn these into measurable goals. Learning goals are what you want your students to be able to do at the end of the course, so use active verbs.  Examples:

  • Test hypotheses and draw correct inferences using quantitative analysis.
  • Carry on a conversation with a native speaker in a friendly manner on topics such as daily life, hobbies, personal history, leisure time activities, and sharing personal episodes.
  • Recognize patterns in observations of chemical phenomena and construct conceptual models to explain the phenomena.

Concrete verbs like those above are generally better at focusing student feedback than are “fuzzier” verbs, such as understand, know, learn, etc.

Learn more about Writing Learning Goals, including good examples from different disciplines.

See Also