Creating Instructional Objectives

Thinking about course objectives and learning outcomes at the beginning of the course design process can help instructors create more effective and meaningful learning experiences for students (Wiggins 2005). One way to begin this process is to first ask: “What is it I hope that students will have learned, that will still be there and have value, several years after the course is over?” (Fink 2013, 71). The resources on this page provide strategies for achieving measurable, efficient and enduring learning outcomes. 


?Learning Objectives Builder: 

  • From Arizona State University, this tool helps you design learning objectives for your course!   

?A Guide to Bloom’s Taxonomy: 

  • From Utica College, this webpage organizes Benjamin Bloom’s classic taxonomy of actions that measure a learner’s knowledge and skills. 

?Alternatives to Bloom’s Taxonomy: 

 ?YouTube Links 


Faculty-to-Faculty Ideas

Idea TitleSummaryGuides and Resources
Be SMART!Have no idea where to begin? Start with Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound measurements of achievement. Info from the Microlearning blog
Start broad and narrow down “I begin with stating objectives at the institutional level, then the departmental level, then the course level, and then the module level. I try to think about the difference between learning goals, objectives, and outcomes, linking more specific performance-based aims, like individual learning activities, to ‘outcomes.’ While these terms can overlap and are sometimes used interchangeably, it’s important to think about the different levels of specificity when devising course objectives." (Wendy Creasey EdD, Director, Digital Learning & Emerging Technology Initiatives) DePaul’s collaborative teaching and learning resource site
Identify significant learning outcomes Make sure your learning goals are important and enduring. Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology at Illinois State University
Think Backwards “When it comes to creating new course objectives (or revising older ones) I create them as part of an overall backwards design process that I use. I start with the overarching learning goals I have for that course since it forces me to think about it from both content approach (learning about the topic) and a broader learning approach (e.g. what will the impact be on students a couple of years after this course?) Dee Fink’s Self-Directed Guide to Significant Learning is a great resource for this because he focuses on not just foundational knowledge but also application, learning how to learn, etc.” (Heidi Bonner PhD, ECU Associate Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice) Dee Fink's Guide
Make sure it’s Measurable Employing verbs that can be measured for achievement are best not only for assessment, but also for communicating expectations to students. From the State University of New York Clinton Community College
Write goals from the student perspective “Faculty often mistakenly write objectives from the teaching perspective, but concentration needs to be on what students learn, not what you convey” From the University of Connecticut
Keep it simple Sometimes the more simple, targeted, and measurable learning objectives can be most impactful. From the University of Central Florida

Related Literature

Academic Books

  • Anderson, Lorin W. A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s. Pearson, 2014. 
  • Biggs, John B, and Catherine Tang. Teaching for Quality Learning at University.Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill Education, 2011. 
  • Wiggins, Grant P, and Jay McTighe. Understanding by Design, 2nd ed. Alexandria, Va: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2005. 


Academic Articles

  • Aamodt, P. O., N. Frølich, and B. Stensaker. 2018. “Learning Outcomes – a Useful Tool in Quality Assurance?” Studies in Higher Education 43 (4): 614–24. doi:10.1080/03075079.2016.1185776 
    • Abstract: While the establishment of quality assurance has been seen for decades as the most significant instrument to secure and enhance the quality of teaching and learning in higher education, the concept of developing more specific learning outcomes has in recent years attracted much interest, not least due to the creation of national qualification frameworks. In this article, we compare the perceived relevance of the traditional quality assurance approach with the new learning outcomes approach – as seen from the view of the academic staff. Using data from a representative survey among Norwegian academic staff, the study indicates that learning outcomes are perceived as more useful and relevant than traditional quality assurance approaches. The article discusses this finding in light of the current ways quality assurance procedures are functioning in higher education, and points to possible implications for the enhancement of quality in universities and colleges. (Keywords: academic staff, learning outcomes, quantitative research, quality assurance, institutional change)
  • Allais, S. 2012. “Claims vs. Practicalities: Lessons About Using Learning Outcomes.” Journal of Education and Work 25 (3): 331–54. doi:10.1080/13639080.2012.687570[Taylor & Francis Online][Google Scholar] 
    • AbstractThe idea of learning outcomes seems to increasingly dominate education policy internationally. Many claims are made about what they can achieve, for example, in enabling comparison of qualifications across countries, improving the recognition of prior learning and improving educational quality. The claims made for the role of learning outcomes rest on the assumption that outcomes can be transparent, or that they can capture or represent the essence of what a learning programme or qualification represents. But in practice, either learning outcomes are open to dramatically different interpretations, or they derive their meaning from being embedded in a curriculum. In both instances, learning outcomes cannot play the roles that are claimed for them. I draw on insights from South Africa, where learning outcomes were a major part of curriculum and education policy reform. I suggest that outcomes cannot disclose meaning within or across disciplinary or practice boundaries. They did not enable the essence of a programme to be understood similarly enough by different stakeholders and they did not facilitate judgements about the nature and quality of education and training programmes. Learning outcomes do not carry sufficient meaning, if they are not embedded in knowledge within a curriculum or learning programme. But if they are thus embedded, they cannot play the roles claimed for them in assisting judgements to be made across curricula and learning programmes. The notion of transparency (or even, a more moderate notion of sufficient transparency) which proved unrealisable in practice is the basis of nearly all the claims made about what learning outcomes can achieve. In addition, the South African experiences demonstrated how outcomes-based approaches can distort education and training programmes, and lead to practical complexities, which are a direct consequence of the need for transparency, and its impossibility, and not (although this was probably also the case) the product of ‘poor implementation’ in South Africa. (Keywords: outcomes-based education, standards, national qualifications frameworks) 
  • Allan, J. 1996. “Learning Outcomes in Higher Education.” Studies in Higher Education 21 (1): 93–108. doi:10.1080/03075079612331381487[Taylor & Francis Online][Web of Science ®][Google Scholar]
    • Abstract: The design of learning experiences in higher education is becoming increasingly outcome-led, but there is confusion regarding what constitutes these outcomes, disquiet concerning their ostensible association with behaviourism, and apprehension concerning their implementation. This article traces the evolution of learning outcomes through rational curriculum planning to the development of expressive outcomes, and suggests a definition of learning outcomes which includes subject-based, personal transferable and generic academic outcomes. The three principal criteria of behavioural objectives are analysed in relation to learning outcomes. Outcomes may subsume learning objectives, but the two are not synonymous and learning outcomes are not fettered by the constraints of behaviourism. Learning outcomes represent what is formally assessed and accredited to the student and they offer a starting point for a viable model for the design of curricula in higher education which shifts the emphasis from input and process to the celebration of student learning. 
  • Caspersen, J., and N. Frølich. 2015. “Managing Learning Outcomes.” In The Transformation of University Institutional and Organizational Boundaries, edited by E. Reale and E. Primeri, 187–202. Rotterdam: Sense. 
    • Abstract: It is probably uncontroversial to say that the last few decades have witnessed an increasing interest in leadership in higher education. The interest has been spurn by policy changes in higher education and public administration in general that have changed higher education governance profoundly. The general observation is that leadership in higher education has shifted from old modes of leadership based in academic and collegial values to new modes of governance increasingly based in social responsibleness and managerialism (consult for example Bleiklie, 2005; Shattock, 2002). 

KeywordsHigh Education Teacher Education Program Leader Business Executive Academic Quality 

  • Dobbins, K., S. Brooks, J. J. A. Scott, M. Rawlinson, and R. I. Norman. 2016. “Understanding and Enacting Learning Outcomes: The Academic’s Perspective.” Studies in Higher Education 41 (7): 1217–35. doi:10.1080/03075079.2014.966668.
    • Abstract: Despite a detailed literature exploring the advancement of a learning outcomes approach in higher education, limited evidence exists concerning academics’ use of them. This study employed a questionnaire survey and interviews with academic staff in three Schools in one institution to explore their views and uses of learning outcomes. Whilst differences between the Schools were apparent, participants appeared primarily to use learning outcomes to focus their thinking around module design or delivery. Opinions about the purposes of learning outcomes varied between student-centred learning and tick-box accountability, but were not always polarised between the two. The data suggested that these two purposes cannot be disassociated from each other, particularly in a consumerist framework of higher education. Academic staff should be empowered to understand and engage with learning outcomes from student-centred learning and accountability perspectives. Further research is also required to investigate the multiple factors that influence academics’ enactments of learning outcomes. (Keywords: learning outcomes, student-centred learning, accountability, consumerism, teaching practices, teaching activities)
  • Entwistle, N. 2005. “Learning Outcomes and Ways of Thinking Across Contrasting Disciplines and Settings in Higher Education.” Curriculum Journal 16 (1): 67–82. doi:10.1080/0958517042000336818
    • Abstract: This article describes the ways in which learning outcomes have been, or will be, investigated within the TLRP projects in higher education. It introduces the term ways of thinking and practising which has been used in one of the projects to describe the intentions of staff in higher education. This term covers what staff see as the essential nature of their discipline and so defines learning outcomes more broadly than is typical in the current specification of intended learning outcomes . The article considers the wide range of differences in learning outcomes that exist across higher education, reflecting different institutional missions and priorities, as well as the fundamental differences that exist between subject areas in the nature of learning outcomes, and considers some of the problems encountered in how to conceptualize and assess them. 
  • Gregory, Vicki L. “Assessment of Student Learning Outcomes in Distance Education.” Advancing Library Education: Technological Innovation and Instructional Design, edited by Ari Sigal, IGI Global, 2013, pp. 172-182. http://doi:10.4018/978-1-4666-3688-0.ch011 
    • Abstract: Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) are becoming the norm for all types of accreditation decisions by regional and specialized agencies. SLOs and student assessment norms and best practices are described, as well as a path to establish SLOs. Analyzing and using the data collected about student assessment to enrich student learning is also described. Special attention is given to LIS instruction, but several comparisons to other disciplines are also made. 
  • Inés Gil-Jaurena, Daniel Domínguez-Figaredo & Belén Ballesteros-Velázquez (2020) Learning outcomes based assessment in distance higher education. A case study, Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-learningDOI :  10.1080/02680513.2020.1757419
    • Abstract: This study focuses on an analysis of assessment methods according to expected learning outcomes in courses taught at the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED) in Spain. Based on the European Higher Education Area and its learning-centred approach, the TALOE webtool has been used to analyse the internal coherence of 10 Bachelor’s and Master’s courses. The TALOE tool was developed in a European project and is free and publically available. The article gives a detailed explanation of how the courses’ analysis has been carried out. The results indicate that, in general, the courses analysed are internally coherent. Nevertheless, we do indicate the mismatches in both the way the learning outcomes are written and the choice of assessment methods, conditioned by the mass character of certain courses. Finally, we give an example of improvements made in a course and we evaluate the utility of the TALOE tool in course design. (Keywords: Assessment, learning outcomes, assessment method, higher education, distance education)
  • Jackson, N. 2000. “Programme Specification and its Role in Promoting an Outcomes Model of Learning.” Active Learning in Higher Education 1 (2): 132–51. doi: 10.1177/1469787400001002004
    • Abstract: Programme specifications will have an important influence on academic practice in UK higher education. They will provide concise summary descriptions of the educational learning outcomes of programmes. They are intended to promote and support a systematic process of critical reflection on the curriculum and the means by which the desired outcomes are achieved and demonstrated. They will provide a foundation for the public assurance of academic standards in universities and colleges and will provide the initial point of contact between an institution’s evaluative and assurance processes and the new peer review process of academic review. They will show how programmes and awards relate to the HE qualifications framework now being developed by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education. This article tries to explain some of the thinking that underlies policy so that those responsible for implementing it will have a better understanding of what it is trying to do and why it has been shaped in the way it has. (Keywords programme specification, QA policy, learning outcomes, standards)
  • Klein, Howard J., Raymond A. Noe, and Chongwei Wang. “Motivation to Learn and Course Outcomes: The Impact of Delivery Mode, Learning Goal Orientation, And Perceived Barriers and Enablers.” Vol 9, issue 3. 2006. 665-702.
    • Abstract: This naturally occurring quasi‐experiment examined how learning goal orientation (LGO), delivery mode (classroom vs. blended learning), and the perception of barriers and enablers related to motivation to learn and course outcomes. Study participants were 600 students enrolled in either classroom or blended learning courses. As hypothesized, learners in the blended learning condition, high in LGO, and who perceived environmental features as enablers rather than barriers had significantly higher motivation to learn. Motivation to learn, in turn, was significantly related to course outcomes (satisfaction, metacognition, and grades). The mediation hypotheses received partial support. Finally, exploratory analyses revealed 3 significant interactions between delivery mode, LGO, and perceived barriers and enablers on motivation to learn and course satisfaction. 
  • Lassnigg, L. 2012. “‘Lost in Translation’: Learning Outcomes and the Governance of Education.” Journal of Education and Work 25 (3): 299–330. doi:10.1080/13639080.2012.687573.
    • AbstractThis paper gives a critical assessment of the relationship between learning outcomes and the governance of education and training systems. Learning outcomes are defined as an instrument that might work at different levels with different meanings and different results: at the level of education and training practice, they might obtain pedagogical results, at the level of policy-making they might contribute to the governance of education and training. However, the ways in which governance impacts on pedagogy is called into question; in particular the argument challenges the assumption of a straightforward and successful ‘top-down’-relationship between governance and pedagogy. First, an assessment is undertaken into supportive and critical expectations about learning outcomes: of what they should achieve and of what is deemed necessary to make them work on the one hand and of detrimental effects they might have, on the other. Second, a framework for the analysis of the impact of learning outcomes is proposed; this brings some approaches from the literature together in a systematic fashion and is also used to interpret some developments of the use of learning outcomes in Austria and in other countries. As a result, we conclude that most expectations of the learning outcomes approach are overstated, as are critiques. Evidence shows that there might be pedagogical benefits of learning outcomes if they are properly implemented; however, they appear too weak as an instrument to bring about the desired results as a governance device. They might successfully change policies, however, without having the desired impact on education and training practice. (Keywords: learning outcomes, pedagogy, policy, governance)