What are Learning Objectives and Course Outcomes?

Course outcomes describe what a course is expected to accomplish — what students should know or be able to do by the end of the course. They fall under terminal objectives but shape lesson learning outcomes and help to focus activities and content. They are more broad than lesson objectives and are overarching (e.g. After completing this course students will able to articulate their ideas well both visually and verbally.)

Lesson objectives describe what students will do to obtain the desired lesson outcome within a course module. They are more specific (e.g. After completing this lesson, the students will be able to 1) identify the definition of foreshadowing, 2) recognize foreshadowing in various works of literature.)

What do learning objectives do?

  1. Can assure students that they have acquired skills, knowledge, and an understanding of thinking processes (analysis, evaluation, and creating) as well as assure instructors that students are learning what you want them to learn.
  2. Provide a guide for learning specifics and clear expectations for what the lesson will enable them to do and distinguish different types of knowledge.
  3. Inform students what they are expected to accomplish in a lesson and why
  4. Help students to learn new material in a way that can be transferred into different context (academic and life).
  5. Help students to build metacognitive skills (self-reflection and self-monitoring on/of their own learning process)

Although student-centered and reflect the change in a learner, they benefit faculty just as much as students. For example, writing learning objectives helps with:

  • keep the course on track and aligned with course outcomes
  • identify critical material for the module
  • clarify, organize and prioritize materials
  • help focus teaching activities
  • help with evaluating teaching for course improvement


  • writing them
  • assuring that all  course material and activities are provided for achieving them
  • assessing that the outcomes have been achieved


Vai, M., & Sosulski, K. (2011). Building the Course Foundation: Outcomes, Syllabus, and Course Outline. In The essential guide to online course design: A standards-based approach. London: Routledge.

The Educational Value of Course-level Learning Objectives/Outcomes. (n.d.). Retrieved September 5, 2015, from https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/index.html