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Writing Effective Goals & Objectives

When well-written, goals and objectives will help identify course content, structure the lecture, and guide the selection of meaningful and relevant activities and assessments. In addition, by stating clear instructional goals and objectives, you help students understand what they should learn and exactly what they need to do.

Course Goals

A course goal may be defined as a broad statement of intent or desired accomplishment. Goals do not specify exactly each step, component, or method to accomplish the task, but they help pave the way to writing effective learning objectives. Typical course goals include a number of subordinate skills, which are further identified and clarified as learning objectives.

For example, an English 102 goal might be to prepare students for English 103. The goal “prepare students” specifies the big picture or general direction or purpose of the course. Course goals often do not specify student outcomes or how outcomes will be assessed. If you have difficulty defining a course goal, brainstorm reasons your course exists and why students should enroll in it. Your ideas can then generate course-related goals. Course goals often originate in the course description and should be written before developing learning objectives. You should also discuss course goals with your colleagues who teach the same class so that you can align your goals to provide students with a somewhat consistent experience of the course.

Course Goal Examples

Marketing Course

Students will learn about personal and professional development, interpersonal skills, verbal and written presentation skills, sales and buying processes, and customer satisfaction development and maintenance.

Physical Geography Course

Students will understand the processes involved in the interactions between, spatial variations of, and interrelationships between hydrology, vegetation, landforms, and soils and humankind.

Theatre/Dance Course

Students will investigate period style from pre-Egyptian through the Renaissance as it relates to theatrical production. Exploration of period clothing, manners, décor, and architecture with projects from dramatic literature.

General Goal Examples

  • Students will know how to communicate in oral and written formats.
  • Students will understand the effect of global warming.
  • Students’ perspective on civil rights will improve.
  • Students will learn key elements and models used in education.
  • Students will grasp basic math skills.
  • Students will understand the laws of gravity.
Learning Objectives

We cannot stop at course goals; we need to develop measurable objectives. Once you have written your course goals, you should develop learning objectives. Learning Objectives are different from goals in that objectives are narrow, discrete intentions of student performance, whereas goals articulate a global statement of intent. Objectives are measurable and observable, while goals are not.

Comparison of Goals and Objectives

Well-stated objectives clearly tell the student what they must do by following a specified degree or standard of acceptable performance and under what conditions the performance will take place. In other words, when properly written, objectives will tell your learners exactly what you expect them to do and how you will be able to recognize when they have accomplished the task. Generally, each section/week/unit will have several objectives (Penn State University, n.p.). Section/week/unit objectives must also align with overall course objectives.

Goals are:

  • Broad, generalized statements about what is to be learned
  • General intentions
  • Intangible
  • Abstract
  • Cannot be validated
  • Defined before analysis
  • Written before objectives

Goals should be written from the instructor’s point of view

Objectives are:

  • Narrow, specific statements about what is to be learned and performed
  • Precise intentions
  • Tangible
  • Concrete
  • Can be validated or measured
  • Written after analysis
  • Prepared before instruction is designed

Objectives should be written from the student’s point of view

Objectives Builder Tool

Use the below objectives builder tool, which was developed by Arizona State University, to begin designing objectives. If it’s your first time click “Start Project”. If this is a return visit, click “Resume” to pick up where you left off or “Restart” to start the tutorial over. Follow the on-screen instructions to build your learning objective(s)!

References and Additional Resources

Several sources are available that you can use to check the accuracy and efficacy of your learning objectives. Several of the sources below provide checklists and other instruments to help you design effective and meaningful objectives.

Mager, R. F. (1997). Measuring instructional results: How to find out if your learning objectives have been achieved. (3rd ed.). Atlanta, GA: CEP Press.

Mager, R. F. (1997). Preparing learning objectives: A critical tool in the development of effective instruction. (3rd ed.). Atlanta, GA: CEP Press.

Penn State University, Schreyer Institute (n.p.). Learning outcomes assessment tutorial.

Smaldino, S. E., Lowther, D. L., Mims, C., & Russell, J. D. (2019). Instructional technology and media for learning (12th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Gronlund, N. E., & Brookhart, S. M. (2009). Gronlund’s writing instructional objectives (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Arizona State University Online (n.p.). Learning objectives builder.

Citation: Northern Illinois University Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning. (2020). Writing goals and objectives. In Instructional guide for university faculty and teaching assistants. Retrieved from

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