In brief:

Course goals, teaching objectives and learning outcomes are distinct from each other because:

  • Course Goals are general statements that indicate the broad intentions of a course. These goals can be mapped to the program curriculum as indicators of purpose and cohesion.
  • Teaching objectives describe the Instructor’s responsibilities, goals or intentions for the course. They often focus on the content that you, as Instructor, want to cover with your students.
  • Learning outcomes focus on evidence and quality of student learning.* They are the indication that the teaching objectives have been met.

*For this reason, we often refer to them as student learning outcomes, and differentiate them from teaching objectives.

Because these three terms are often conflated in educational literature, we will clarify the distinctions between them for our purposes in this module.

Course goals describe the high-level goals or general aim of the course. Some Instructors will frame these as the ‘one essential I want them to take away from this course, if nothing else’. They cannot be easily measured and often include several teaching objectives consolidated into one broad statement. Instructors often include the course goals on their course syllabus. While they may be useful for providing context, they typically do not clarify expectations nor grading criteria for students.

Learning outcomes are also often referred to as learning objectives.
The important distinction is that the descriptive statement focusses on what the student can do to demonstrate their learning.

Teaching objectives center on your instructional goals and the content you intend to cover during the semester in support of your course goals. These are especially practical for instructional planning and curating learning resources and essential content. From the student’s perspective, however, they still do not sufficiently clarify your expectations and grading criteria.

Learning outcomes are the final piece of your planning and the most important piece for students! Because they are observable and measurable statements of student learning indicators, they communicate what students will be expected to do with their learning and how they will be graded.

Compare the following course goals and related teaching objectives with their corresponding student-focussed learning outcomes:

For screen readers, click on the image to download this table as a pdf

For the purpose of course design, your student learning outcomes are what you should use to guide your assessment and instructional planning. The learning outcomes provide clear evidence of whether students have achieved your teaching objectives.

The next section will:

  • discuss the importance of articulating learning outcomes that match your intended level of learning.

Further Resources

Diamond, R. (1998). "Clarifying Instructional Goals and Objectives." (Revised ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. urses%20and%20Curricula%3A%20A%20Practical%20Guide__Orightresult__U__X4?lang=eng&suite=def