Skip to content Skip to navigation

Writing Learning Goals

Writing Learning Goals

Learning Goals Overview

Specific, measurable goals help you in designing your course and assessing its success. To articulate them, consider these questions to help you determine what you want your students to know and be able to do at the end of your course.

  1. What are the most important concepts (ideas, methods, theories, approaches, perspectives, and other broad themes of your field, etc.) that students should be able to understand, identify, or define at the end of your course?
  2. What would constitute a "firm understanding", a "good identification", and so on, and how would you assess this? What lower-level facts or information would students need to have mastered and retained as part of their larger conceptual structuring of the material?
  3. What questions should your students be able to answer at the end of the course? 
  4. What are the most important skills that students should develop and be able to apply in and after your course (quantitative analysis, problem-solving, close reading, analytical writing, critical thinking, asking questions, knowing how to learn, etc.)?
  5. How will you help the students build these skills, and how will you help them test their mastery of these skills?
  6. Do you have any affective goals for the course, such as students developing a love for the field?
 
A note on terminology:The academy uses a number of possible terms for the concept of learning goals, including course goals, course outcomes, learning outcomes, learning objectives, and more, with fine distinctions among them. With respect for that ongoing discussion, given that the new Stanford course evaluations are focused on assessing learning goals, we will use "learning goals" when discussing what you want your students to be able to do or demonstrate at the end of your class.

Learning Goal Examples

Examples from Stanford’s office of Institutional Research & Decision Support and syllabi of Stanford faculty members:

Languages and Literature

  • Students will be able to apply critical terms and methodology in completing a literary analysis following the conventions of standard written English.
  • Students will be able to locate, apply, and cite effective secondary materials in their own texts.
  • Students will be able to analyze and interpret texts within the contexts they are written.
  • Foreign language students will be able to demonstrate oral competence with suitable accuracy in pronunciation, vocabulary, and language fluency.
  • Foreign language students will be able to produce written work that is substantive, organized, and grammatically accurate.
  • Foreign language students will be able to accurately read and translate texts in their language of study.

Humanities and Fine Arts

  • Students will be able to demonstrate fluency with procedures of two-dimensional and three-dimensional art practice.
  • Students will demonstrate in-depth knowledge of artistic periods used to interpret works of art including the historical, social, and philosophical contexts.
  • Students will be able to critique and analyze works of art and visual objects.
  • Students will be able to identify musical elements, take them down at dictation, and perform them at sight.
  • Students will be able to communicate both orally and in writing about music of all genres and styles in a clear and articulate manner.
  • Students will be able to perform a variety of memorized songs from a standard of at least two foreign languages.
  • Students will be able to apply performance theory in the analysis and evaluation of performances and texts.

Physical and Biological Sciences

  • Students will be able to apply critical thinking and analytical skills to interpreting scientific data sets.
  • Students will be able to demonstrate written, visual, and/or oral presentation skills to communicate scientific knowledge.
  • Students will be able to acquire and synthesize scientific information from a variety of sources.
  • Students will be able to apply techniques and instrumentation to solve problems.

Mathematics

  • Students will be able to translate problems for treatment within a symbolic system.
  • Students will be able to articulate the rules that govern a symbolic system.
  • Students will be able apply algorithmic techniques to solve problems and obtain valid solutions.
  • Students will be able to judge the reasonableness of obtained solutions.

Social Sciences

  • Students will be able to write clearly and persuasively to communicate their scientific ideas clearly.
  • Students will be able to test hypotheses and draw correct inferences using quantitative analysis.
  • Students will be able to evaluate theory and critique research within the discipline.

Engineering

  • Students will be able to explain and demonstrate the role that analysis and modeling play in engineering design and engineering applications more generally.
  • Students will be able to communicate about systems using mathematical, verbal and visual means.
  • Students will be able to formulate mathematical models for physical systems by applying relevant conservation laws and assumptions.
  • Students will be able to choose appropriate probabilistic models for a given problem, using information from observed data and knowledge of the physical system being studied.
  • Students will be able to choose appropriate methods to solve mathematical models and obtain valid solutions.

For more information about learning goals, meet with a VPTL consultant.

For more information about how learning goals can contribute to your course design, please see Designing Courses Backwards.

See more STEM learning goal examples from the Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative.