How Do I Create Learning Goals?

While almost every instructor will have listed "class goals" on their syllabus, many times, these are very general statements of intent rather than measurable desired outcomes. Concrete goals that can be easily measured (facility with a given device or software package, for instance) set a stationary target for students and faculty to aim for and minimize subjective misunderstandings. As you think of what your goals are, it can be helpful to look at the situation from several different viewpoints.

  1. What do you want the students to take away from the class?
    • What course content (knowledge of the subject) should they leave the class with?
    • What skills do you want them to master (using tools, apparatus, reading maps, etc.)?
    • What kinds of higher-order thinking do you want them to develop (critical thinking, oral and written presentation, etc.)?
  2. Are these expectations reasonable based on the level of the course, the level of the students, available resources, etc.?
  3. What academic needs have brought the students to this class?
    • Are they preparing for teaching or other professional certification?
    • Are they preparing for graduate school?
    • What knowledge and skills do they need to take advantage of citizenship in a democracy?

If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people. --Chinese proverb

Many times, the hardest part of setting Learning Goals turns out to be deciding what to include and what to leave out. There is only so much time in a semester of classes. Do you want to include activities to improve the critical thinking skills of your students, or their writing skills? Do you want to cover as much material on the subject as possible? A concept adapted from economics may prove helpful - "opportunity cost" (Teaching Goals and Instructional Patterns - Faculty Center for Teaching Excellence (more info) , Indiana State University). The idea of this concept is that where a finite resources is concerned (money or time, for example), choosing to do one thing means you can't do something else. Spending class time exclusively to teach subject matter means that you will not be able to address other things that can improve student performance like problem solving skills and analysis. But spending time on these other topics means less time to devote to content. It becomes a question about what the instructor finds most important in view of the students' needs.

To help you determine your priorities you might complete the Teaching Goals and Instructional Patterns created by Thomas Angelo and Patricia Cross. This tool will ask you to rate 52 different educational goals on the basis of their relevance to your teaching. Based on your answers, it will show you where your current emphases are in terms of addressing Personal Development skills, Discipline-Specific Knowledge and Skills, Higher Order Thinking Skills, etc.

Once you have explicit Learning Goals, they can guide your decision-making.

  • Is your teaching explicitly promoting the goals you have set through your lectures, discussions and assignments?
  • Are you assessing your students based on those goals?

Many times, educators find little or no evidence of action on some of their most important goals. Discovering this fact first-hand is the first necessary step in closing the gap between what we say we want to accomplish in the classroom and what we actually succeed in accomplishing. (Essays in Teaching Excellence: Teaching Goals, Assessment, Academic Freedom and Higher Learning (more info) - Thomas Angelo)

Now that you have thought in much greater detail about what you want to accomplish in your class, you may wish to revisit the issue of whether you should put some or all of your materials online. 

Other Resources

Faculty Teaching Goals in the Online Environment - A PowerPoint presentation given by Kimberly Hardy, Ph.D. at the Council for the Study of Community Colleges 2003 Conference.