Course Goals & Objectives: A tip on focusing your students on the important stuff

As you go through the process of developing a course, a lesson, etc., one challenge is to keep the students focused on what is important, and what you want them to get out of the course. It is also important to use your time in class to the best advantage. One idea that you might find helpful is to spend a few moments planning course goals and objectives. It sounds simple or even obvious, but once you really get to thinking about it, you will likely find that some surprising ideas come to mind.  Naturally, you want to determine what you want the students to learn and how you will know that they learned, but as instructors we sometimes don't give consideration to all of the options or tools available to us. The process of thinking through and writing down clear course goals and objectives will enable you to both focus your students’ learning and help you make decisions about how you spend your limited class time.

How do I start?  We can start by making a distinction between "goals" and "objectives" …

Goals: Goals are broad, generalized statements about what is to be learned. Think of them as a destination to be reached.

Objectives:Think of objectives as the steps taken in reaching that destination (goals). Objectives are specific, measurable, short-term, observable student behaviors. They indicate the desirable knowledge, skills, or attitudes to be gained. Objectives are the foundation upon which you can build lessons and assessments that can assist you in meeting your overall course or lesson goals and assist students in meeting expected learning outcomes.


Stating clear course goals and objectives is important because:

  • Students will understand expectations
  • Objectives guide the content materials and the teaching methods
  • You can use objectives to make sure you reach your goals
  • Assessment and grading is based on the objectives