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Course Design: Objectives and Outcomes


Goals, Objectives, and Outcomes

Assessment is simply learning the answer to the question: "Am I accomplishing what I intended to accomplish?" Generally, in the classroom, what you want to accomplish is student learning. In order to answer the question of "Are students learning what I want them to learn?" you must have clear goals, objectives, and outcomes for your teaching.

What's the Difference?

You will frequently see the terms "goal," "objective," and "outcome" used interchangeably, but for the purposes of this guide, we'll define them this way:

  • GOALS - Broad, general statements of what teaching intends to accomplish. Goals describe broad learning outcomes and concepts expressed in general terms.

  • OBJECTIVES - Brief, clear statements that describe the desired result of instruction. Objectives describe specific skills, values, and attitudes students should exhibit.

  • OUTCOMES - Statements that describe significant and essential learning that students have achieved. Learning outcomes identify what the student will ultimately know and be able to do.

Student Learning Outcomes

Student learning outcomes and assessment are essential components of teaching everything from a single task-oriented skill to a semester-long course.

Student Learning Outcomes - Start at the end

Student learning outcomes guide your teaching - most simply, they should state what it is that you want your students to learn. The result of your teaching is the learning outcome for your instruction.

You may see student learning outcomes expressed as: "By the end of this workshop, students will be able to..." Although the student learning outcome describes the end result of your instruction, it should be the first thing you consider when you plan an instruction session.

Learning Outcome Best Practices

How do you write a "good" learning outcome? An effective learning outcome meets several criteria - it is specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic and timebound. You can remember these criteria by the acronym SMART. 

  • Specific - Outcome is focused on a specific category of student learning.

  • Measurable - Data can be collected to measure student learning.

  • Action-oriented - Outcome uses Bloom's taxonomy to reflect hoped-for behavior change or knowledge acquisition.

  • Realistic - Outcome is attainable given the educational experience and the conditions for instruction.

  • Timebound - Outcome identifies when the behavior change or knowledge acquisition will be reached.


Writing Student Learning Outcomes

How do you go about writing a learning outcome? Here are some questions that might help you brainstorm a list:

  • What do you want the student to be able to do?

  • What knowledge, skill or abilities should the ideal student participant demonstrate?

  • How will students be able to demonstrate what they learned?

  • How does this program and outcome fit within the Division's Student Learning Outcomes?

The focus should be on what a student will be able to do with the information or experience.

Once you have identified the intended outcomes, you will want to write a formal learning outcome statement. Below are two different approaches to consider.

Writing Outcomes - Formula Method

Outcomes Formula

The formula approach stresses the skill you wish students to learn plus how that skill will be applied.

Verb phrase   +   “in order to…”   +   Impact phrase

The verb phrase should be an action word that identifies the performance to be demonstrated. When using several outcomes, verb phrases should represent a variety of levels from Bloom's Taxonomy.

The impact phrase specifies a purpose that is both specific and transferable; it explains why.

Here are some very generic student learning outcomes demonstrating the Formula Method:

Students will be able to:

  • recognize dangerous items in the lab in order to avoid injury. [KNOWLEDGE]

  • apply previously learned information in order to reach a conclusion. [APPLICATION]

  • identify the correct steps in order to complete the process. [ANALYSIS

ABCD Learning Outcomes

This method identifies what students will know, think, or be able to do as a result of a learning activity.

Audience (Who) - Who is doing the learning?

Behavior (What) - What do you expect the learner to know/be able to do?

Condition (How) - Under what conditions or circumstances will the learning occur?

Degree (How much) - How much will be accomplished, how well will the behavior need to be performed, and to what level?


  • Students | who attend advising sessions | will choose courses| that fulfill their chosen degree requirements.

  • As a result of attending lab orientation, | new students | will be able to safely use lab equipment.



Bowen, Ryan S., (2017). Understanding by Design. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.

Wiggins, Grant P., and Jay McTighe. Understanding by Design. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2005.

Online Resources

“Writing Course Goals/Learning Outcomes and Learning Objectives.” Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching ICal, Iowa State University,

An overview of writing course goals and learning outcomes including examples, use of Bloom’s Taxonomy as a framework, and a glossary of action verbs.

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  • Last Updated: Sep 15, 2023 10:54 AM
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