Lexicon: Learning Goals, Objectives, and Outcomes (CTL draft for

Lexicon: Learning Goals, Objectives, and Outcomes (CTL draft for April 9, 2014 workshop)
Much confusion exists about the definition of goals, objectives, and learning outcomes. Part of the confusion
results from the fact that the terms are often conflated, even in the literature. Since accrediting agencies and
SDSU policy requires that faculty include learning outcomes on all course syllabi, it’s helpful to understand the
differences in these terms.
Learning Goal – A learning goal is a broad definition of student competence. These goals are not necessarily
directly measurable. The SDSU GE capacities are actually learning goals.
Examples of these goals include: Students will be able to …
• critically question and analyze arguments and evidence provided by others.
• explain the necessity and difficulty of making ethnical choices.
• make connections among apparently disparate forms of knowledge.
Learning Objective – A course or program objective describes what a faculty member(s) intends to achieve
in a course or program. They are generally less broad than goals and more broad than student learning
outcomes. Examples of objectives include: Students will be able to …
• recognize different art media and describe their role in art history. (Art)
• identify common human mental disorders. (Psychology)
• apply appropriate statistical analyses to compare results of qualitative and quantitative studies. (Statistics)
Student Learning Outcome – A detailed description of what students are expected to be able do when they
successfully complete a course or program. When writing outcome statements, it is helpful to use verbs that
are measurable or that describe an observable action. Such verbs help faculty (and students) avoid
misinterpretation. The best outcomes will include a description of the conditions (“when given x, you will be
able to…”) and the acceptable performance level.
Examples of good student learning outcomes:
Art. When shown a print, students will be able to identify whether it is a woodcut, an etching, or a lithograph,
and students will be able to list the characteristics on which this identification was based.
Psychology. When given a case study, you will be able to identify whether it describes a case of schizophrenia,
and if it does, which of the following schizophrenic reactions are involved: hybephrenic, catatonic, or
Statistics. When given two events, you will be able to determine whether they are independent or whether
there is a relationship between them (that is, one event affects the probability of the other). On the basis of
this determination, you will be able to select and use the appropriate rules of conditional probability to
determine the probability that a certain event will occur
Summary: What is the difference between objectives and outcomes?
Objectives are intended results of instruction. Outcomes are achieved (measured) results of what was
learned. They describe essential learning that learners have achieved and can demonstrate at the end of a
learning event.
Learning outcomes state:
• the performance the learner will be able to demonstrate
• the conditions under which the learner is to perform
• the criteria for measurement of the performance
Sample learning outcome: At the conclusion of this course/program, students will be able to explain earned
value analysis and successfully perform earned value calculations.
Sample measurement: Students will successfully perform the calculations on a sample project in class.
(Derived from documents posted by SFSU and Project Management Institute (PMI). Examples are taken from Designing and
Assessing Courses and Curricula, Third Edition, 2008. Robert M. Diamond. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco, CA.)