As subject matter experts in their field, faculty know almost intuitively what the most important things are that students must master. In order to develop learning goals, faculty should answer the question, “What do I want my students to know or be able to do by the end of this course?”
Developing a set of learning goals/outcomes for a course takes what faculty know but don’t always state and puts it into a short list of real concepts that can guide students and add clarity to teaching and learning. The overall goal for teaching should be learning. When students know what they should be able to do by the end of a course it will be less of a challenge for them to meet that goal.
How can learning goals/outcomes add value to teaching and learning?
Clearly defined learning goals/outcomes contribute to a structure that surrounds a course and can aid in selecting appropriate graded and ungraded assessments, selecting relevant content for the course, and enhancing the assessment or grading practices.
- Remember that learning goals/outcomes do not place limits on what you can teach in a course. Instead, goals provide a map or signposts that tell students where the course is going.
- Learning goals/outcomes can add to student’s sense of ownership in the learning process helping them feel like they are on the inside logic of the course instead of the outside.
- Learning goals/outcomes can be a useful communication tool. Faculty can describe their course to colleagues and students by beginning with their goals.
- Departments can gain a sense of curricular cohesiveness if multiple courses have learning goals.
How do I begin developing learning goals/outcomes for my course?
You are the expert in this process. Begin by relying on what you know about the subject, what you know you can realistically teach in the course, and what your students can realistically learn. As you begin developing learning goals think of concepts, topics, important skills, and vital areas of learning connected to your course. Make a list and don’t worry about developing full goal statements. That will come later. The list you develop is perhaps the most important step in this exercise; it will form the basis for goals, assessments, and the overall teaching and learning process. Share your list with colleagues. Let them help you critique it. Keep returning to “what can you realistically teach and what can your students learn” as a way of editing the list to something that is manageable. Your list should help you answer the question, “What do I want my students to know or be able to do by the end of this course?”
Consider the following points as you develop learning goals/outcomes:
- Don’t get trapped into thinking that you will only be able to teach to the goals. Your learning goals/outcomes point out the high points and learners always need to know all of the supporting content, theory, data, different points of view, and relevant facts that support the high points.
- Keep the number of learning goals/outcomes - manageable and realistic. The first time you go through this exercise opt for a shorter list knowing that you can edit it as needed. Five or six goals might be a good starting point.
- Write goal/outcome statements that begin with action verbs. By using verbs that specify action, the outcome is more likely to be measurable. Actions help identify what needs to be assessed (did this student develop a plan, facilitate a process, establish a relationship, present a solution?) (See list of action verbs on the next page).
- Use language that is discipline-specific and appropriate to your field.
- Think about goals that are valuable to you and your students. Consider how discipline specific goals map to broader skills attainment (e.g., critical thinking, analytical resasoning and written/oral communication.
- Think about your teaching experience. What evidence tells you that students have met your expectations? How would you know that they are getting it? In other words, learning goals/outcomes should be measurable; you will need evidence that the goal was or was not achieved.
Several examples of learning goals/outcomes taken from UC Berkeley undergraduate courses
By the end of this course students will be able to:
- Identify major figures and ideas in peace movements from around the world.
- Formulate a well-organized argument supported by evidence.
- Communicate effectively in the language of the target country and read appropriate vernacular materials in our field.
- Practice ethical behavior while engaging in service learning.
- Demonstrate the ability to read, evaluate and interpret general economic information.
- Apply the necessary mathematical tools to solving complex design problems.
- Apply scientific principles to analyze mechanical systems of importance to society.
- Analyze media images and narratives.
- Apply research methods in psychology, including design, data analysis, and interpretation to a research project.
- Communicate effectively in an oral presentation.
List of Action Verbs
Linking Learning Goals/Outcomes to Course Assignments
Once you have developed a set of course learning goals, it’s time to begin thinking about linking them to the rest of your course and to assignments, in particular.
- Begin by answering the question: “What evidence do I need to know that my students have met the goals for this course?”
- The primary source of evidence of learning will come from the course assignments that students produce.
- The work each student produces is the direct evidence of learning. This is likely the best way to evaluate learning in most courses.
- Indirect evidence of learning is seen in things like course evaluations in which students might comment that they “learned a lot.”
- The “evidence” you will be looking for will be familiar (papers, exams, presentations) but now you want to connect the course goals to these assignments
- When selecting assessments consider the constraints of your course (class size, expertise of the students, workload for faculty, students, GSI’s).
- Can your students successfully meet a goal through one assessment?
- Can multiple goals be included in a single, more complex assessment?
Designing Assignments Linked to Goals/Outcomes
As you begin the process of designing course assignments, answer these questions:
- What goal/outcome or goals/outcomes are associated with the assignment?
- What are the components of the goal?
If you have a course goal that states that students should be able to “Formulate a well organized argument supported by evidence” the components of that goal might be that students need to:
- Demonstrate depth and breadth of understanding
- Present information in a clear and organized way
- Incorporate a variety of sources of evidence
- Use accurate grammar and mechanics
This is a vital step in the process of linking goals/outcomes with assessments. By identifying the components of a learning goal/outcome, you begin to make the teaching and learning process more transparent. Knowing what the components of a goal are will help in writing the assignment description and will be very valuable in the grading process.