Teaching Handbook

Course Objectives

What are Learning Objectives?

Learning objectives are statements that clearly describe what students will be able to know, do, or value as a result of their educational experience. Learning objectives should be written so that even those who are unfamiliar with the disciplinary expertise can clearly understand what they can expect to gain from the course and should identify measureable behaviors or quality of student work.

What is the Purpose of Learning Objectives?

Clear, effective learning objectives help both instructors and students succeed!1

For instructors, clear learning objectives facilitate:

  • Making hard decisions about selecting course content
  • Designing assessments to evaluate student progress
  • Developing instructional activities that will facilitate student learning
  • Measuring and assessing student learning

For students, clear learning objectives facilitate:

  • Making hard decisions about whether the course is a good fit for their goals and background
  • Identifying what the will need in order to be successful in the course
  • Developing the incremental skills necessary to achieve mastery of the course content
  • Measuring and assessing their own progress and learning

What should Learning Objectives Do?2

  • Focus on the Student: Rather than articulating what you plan to do as the instructor, learning objectives should be student-centered, describing the skills, knowledge, abilities or values learners will develop in the course.
  • Break Down the Task Incrementally: Many times, a major skill students must learn in a course is actually a complex synthesis of discrete component skills. Learning objectives help isolate these incremental steps in the progression toward the larger goal to facilitate mastery of the overarching task.
  • Identify Observable, Measureable Behavior: Using action verbs helps communicate the specific actions students need to take to achieve and demonstrate mastery of course content and provide observable, measurable benchmarks for assessing progress.

How do I write Effective Learning Objectives?1,3

  1. Reflect on the course. Consider things like:
    • What role does it play in the departmental/programmatic curriculum? Is it required or elective, and does it have or serve as a prerequisite?
    • How advanced is the course? What can I expect students to know at the start of the course and what do they need to know once they have completed the course?
    • What do students need from this course? What do you most hope students will remember from the course?
    • What makes this course special or unique? Why is this course offered, and why do you teach it?
  2. Brainstorm specific things what you want students to know and do by the end of the course. Include as many ideas as you'd like, and don't worry yet about form or language.
  3. Refer to resources that can help you identify action verbs that will be observable and measurable. Bloom's Taxonomy can provide a useful framework for articulating learning goals. There are many resources below that categorize lists of action verbs and measurable behavior descriptions to help you write clear learning objectives.
  4. Draft your learning outcomes and prioritize them.
  5. Edit and finalize them by double checking that they are:
    • Student/Learner Focused: Do they identify actions done by the students, not by the instructors?
    • Observable and Measurable: Do they identify actions that students can demonstrate for you to observe and measure?
    • Incremental: Do they identify component tasks that synthesize to achieve the major goal?


  • 1. Setting Learning Outcomes, Center for Teaching Excellence, Cornell University.
  • 2. Articulate Your Learning Objectives, Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation (2008), Carnegie Mellon University.
  • 3. Writing and Assessing Course-Level Student Learning Outcomes , (pages 1-9 and 21-28), Office of Planning and Assessment, Texas Tech University.

More Tips on Writing Learning Objectives

Verbs and Vocabulary for Writing Learning Objectives

Sample Learning Objectives

  • Samples of Learning Objectives, Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation (2015), Carnegie Mellon University.
  • Writing and Assessing Course-Level Student Learning Outcomes, pages 10-11, Office of Planning and Assessment, Texas Tech University.