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Authoring Learning Objectives

Though some educators use the terms interchangeably, learning objectives and learning outcomes are different yet related things. A learning outcome describes a final state goal or proficiency that learners will achieve or gain from a learning experience. In contrast, a learning objective is a specific and measurable statement to help learners fulfill that defined learning outcome in a step-wise or incremental fashion via instruction and student performance.

For example, if a course-level learning outcome was set for learners to successfully present a market plan for a start-up business, the course-level learning objectives would be a series of measurable and relevant actions in conducting market research, analyzing marketing strategy, evaluating the decision-making process, budgeting the market plan, executing the market plan, etc. Following that, various lesson-level learning objectives would break down the course-level learning objectives into specific, achievable, and trackable/timely steps (creating survey instruments, evaluating methods of distribution, interpreting data, and so on).

Having these definitions in mind, designing curriculum, creating courses, developing lectures, and setting up assignments all begin with SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely/Transparent) course-level and lesson-level learning objectives. A successful learning outcome connects course and lesson learning objectives together to help achieve overall course goals.

Additional considerations


  • Suskie, L. (2018). Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide (3rd edition). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 
  • Anderson, L. (2013). A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Abridged Edition. Essex, UK: Pearson.