Q. What is the difference between goals, objectives, and outcomes?
For purposes of developing course assessment plans, a careful distinction between goals, objectives, and outcomes is not necessary. Typically, learning goals are broad statements of purpose, expressed in general terms, such as “enhance challenge, discovery, and quality in undergraduate education” as GW’s Strategic Plan for Academic Excellence states, and learning outcomes are “the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and habits of mind that students take with them from a learning experience.” (Suskie, 2009, 117) “Learning objectives” is often used interchangeably with “learning outcomes,” and the AACSB discusses learning goals leading to learning objectives “that become specific student performance expectations.” ABET, the engineering accrediting group, defines outcomes as “what a student knows or can do by the time of graduation” and objectives as “what a student can accomplish during the first few years after graduation.” The School of Public Health defines “competencies” for degree programs, but uses learning objectives or learning outcomes for courses. The important element of course planning is to decide on and to state precisely the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and habits of mind you expect students to take away from your course.
Q. My program has a mission statement and/or goals and learning outcomes. How does that impact my course learning outcomes?
A statement of goals and learning outcomes at the program level assists you in developing your course goals and learning outcomes. Consider the program’s goals and learning outcomes and how your specific course contributes to the overall degree program or general education requirements. Your course learning outcomes should reflect what the course is expected to contribute to meet the larger programmatic or general education mission.
Q. There are other sections of my course. How do learning goals and outcomes of other sections impact the learning goals and outcomes of my section?
Multiple sections of a single course within the curriculum necessitate that you engage in dialogue with colleagues teaching other sections about the core knowledge, skills, and abilities students completing the course should demonstrate. Although there may not be complete consensus about all learning outcomes, it is important that the faculty reach some consensus on the basic outcomes essential for further, successful engagement by students of advanced courses. The course and all its sections fit within a continuum of knowledge, so some learning outcomes will inevitably be shared across sections of the same course. Section-to-section consistency is needed to meet the department’s programmatic requirements, the general education basics, or other disciplinary requirements.
Suskie, L. Assessing Student Learning. A common sense guide, 2nd edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.