The Difference Between Learning Objectives and Learning Goals

I’ve found that some educators don’t understand the difference between the goals or a course and the objectives of a course. Writing solid, meaningful, and measurable learning objectives is difficult, while writing learning goals, in my opinion, is much easier but not often required

Let’s start by understanding the difference between the two.

The learning goals describe, at a high level, what the contents of the course will cover. Open up any university or collage course calendar and you will find a list of descriptions of all the courses. These descriptions are the learning goals.

Often times the learning goals provide and overview description of the course, usually in one or two succinct paragraphs, and perhaps includes how a particular course compliments the program.

Sometimes learning goals are referred to as course goals and sometimes even as learning descriptions.

I always include the learning goals at the beginning of a syllabus, which are followed by the learning objectives.

The course objectives are what I use as a jumping off point to create my measureable outcomes. Think of it as an active description of what the learner will achieve by the end of the course.

It’s easier to understand the difference between the learning goals and learning objectives by comparing the two. Below is an example of each for an introduction to media studies course I taught.

Course Goals

This “hands-on” subject will introduce students to print, radio, television, and advertising. Students will be introduced to the key elements of each medium and the audiences they serve. There is a strong emphasis on learning to write clearly and concisely in a variety of styles, which meet industry standards. Through a combination of discussion, class activities, written assignments, and team presentations, students will develop a solid understanding of the media’s role in Canadian society.

Learning Objectives

Upon successful completion of the course, students will be able to:

  • Describe the differences of the media and their roles in Canadian society
  • Demonstrate their understanding of the key elements of writing for print, radio, television, and advertising
  • Demonstrate their understanding of the integration of media and how it affects the information the public receives

Clearly the learning goals describe the topics covered, how the course will be delivered, and what the learners should achieve by taking the course. The objectives contain three points that will measure the students’ success and demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the content.

Next week, we’ll go through the steps of writing effective course objectives.

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