Writing Learning Goals

Writing Course Outcomes and Module Objectives 

Overview 

Learning goals describe the intended learning achievements of students. They can be formulated at the program, course, or unit level. This article focuses on how to write learning goals for two of these levels  course outcomes and module (unit) objectives.  

Simply stated, course outcomes and module objectives describe skills or attitudes that students develop through learning interactions. Course outcomes identify what the learner will know and be able to do by the end of a course. Module objectives describe what a learner will know and be able to do by the end of a module or lesson 

Effective course outcomes and module objectives have similar characteristics. 

Well-written course outcomes and module objectives:

  • describe what students should be able to demonstrate or produce as a result of completing a course or lesson 
  • rely on active verbs that identify what students should be able to demonstrate or produce by completing a lesson 
  • are readily measurable by assessment 

Note that learning goals at any level do not describe instructor activities, such as giving a lecture or providing a demonstration. Learning goals should always be written from the student perspective. 

Why Should I Write Course Outcomes and Module Objectives? 

Learning goals provide several benefits in terms of course development and implementationAmong the benefits offered by course outcomes and module objectives are that they:

  • communicate expectations to learners when they are included in a syllabus or integrated into the course structure 
  • provide guidelines for instruction making it easier for instructors to organize and facilitate the course
  • establish targets for assessment because the expectations for learning are clearly defined 

The Structure of Learning Goals 

A well-constructed learning goal typically has four distinct components: 

  1. Audience  Who is the learner?
  2. Behavior  What should learners be able to do, value, or feel when they have completed the lesson?
  3. Condition  Under what circumstances will learning occur?
  4. Degree  To what level will the behavior or attitude need to be demonstrated?   

Often, the “Audience can be assumed based on the course (e.g., “first-year nursing students”), so it may not need to be expressly written into individual learning goals. The “Degree can also be considered optional if students are provided with rubrics that specify grading criteria based on levels of achievement.  

Below is an example of the structure of module objective. Notice that “Degree” is not stated but is assumed. 

 

Focus on Learner Actions with Bloom’s Taxonomy 

Bloom’s Taxonomy, devised by educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom in the 1950s, categorizes the way people learn into these categories or levels: remembering, understanding, application, analysis, evaluation, and creativity. 

Within each category, Bloom identified learner actions that encourage cognitive skills. These actions (verbs) aid in writing learning goals. Bloom’s verbs enable instructors to write learning goals in a manner that is measurable and appropriately suited for the targeted level of learning. (See Bloom’s Verbs, below.) 

When developing learning goals for graduate or professional students using Bloom’s hierarchy, aim for the higher levels of cognitive learning whenever possible. 

 

Examples of Learning Goals 

Here are examples of poorly written and well-constructed course outcomes: 

 

Here are examples of poorly written and well-constructed module objectives: 

Anderson, L. W. and Krathwohl, D. R., et al (Eds..) (2001) A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Allyn & Bacon. Boston, MA. 

Creative Commons License
Writing Learning Goals by Kevin Engler and Michelle Pearce is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Revised 3/16/2020


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