The Baruch College Faculty Handbook

Guidelines for Writing Learning Goals

Last updated on 8/15/13

The Joint Committee on Curriculum Committee and Articulation requires all courses to have appropriate learning goals.

 

 

 

1. Learning goals are more than just teaching goals. A weakness in many course proposals submitted is a tendency to mistake teaching goals for learning goals.

Teaching goals often reflect what the instructor wants to do in a very general, vague way. For example, we might see a statement formulated in this manner:

The purpose of this course is to introduce students to the basic theoretical concepts in the field, to examine the historical development of these concepts, and to explore current controversies.

This statement does not address the question of what students will actually take away from the course and so is unacceptable as a formulation of learning goals. Other examples of problematic formulations include terminology such as “develop an appreciation of” or “expose students to.” The weakness of these goals is not that they are unworthy, but that they primarily describe what the instructor intends to do or to accomplish over the course of the semester.  In other words, they are instructor-oriented rather than student-oriented.

Learning goals should describe actions that students will be able to perform upon completing the course and therefore differ crucially from descriptions of what we intend to teach.  In reformulating goals from the student perspective, we should think not just about what we want to cover in the course but also about how we will know that students have learned the things that we want to cover. The questions that the author of the statement quoted above should be asking him or herself are: how will I know that my students have been successfully introduced to the basic theoretical concepts; that they understand the historical development of these concepts; and that they are familiar with current controversies in the field?

 

2. In formulating learning goals the members of the Joint Committee suggest using the phrase: “will be able to…”

A reformulation of the statement quoted above might read as follows.

After completing this course students will be able to:

  • identify, describe, and explain basic theoretical concepts in the field.
  • Present a detailed account of the historical context in which these concepts were developed.
  • Research and prepare a term paper on an important current controversy in the field.

 

3. Vague goals should be reformulated to be as specific as possible. For example:

  • Vague: Students will understand the style periods of Western music.  How will we know that the students “understand”?
  • Better: 1) Students will be able to identify which style period of Western music a piece belongs to; and 2) students will be able to describe how the elements of music are used differently in each style period.
  • Vague: Students will have basic knowledge of the field.  How will we know that the students have acquired that “basic knowledge”?
  • Better: 1) Students will be able to read and interpret studies that use quantitative methods; and 2) students will be able to research questions using quantitative methods.
  • Vague: Students will appreciate the scientific method.  How will we know that the students “appreciate”?
  • Better: Students will be able to examine a scientific research paper and 1) identify and describe the experimental hypothesis; 2) identify methodology used to test that hypothesis; and 3) comment critically on the research conclusions.

 

4. If you are going to assess student learning goals separately, then list them separately.  For example:

  • Every student will be able to conduct an original research project and communicate the results in an oral presentation.  Difficult to assess as a whole.
  • Better: 1) Students will be able to conduct an original research project; and 2) Students will be able to communicate the results in an oral presentation.

 

5. In writing student learning goals use active verbs:

Examples [adapted from Mary J. Allen, Assessing Academic Programs in Higher Education (Anker, 2008)]:

 

Knowledge – cite, define, describe, identify, indicate, list, match, recognize, reproduce, select, state
Comprehension – arrange, classify, defend, distinguish diagram, explain, generalize, predict, report
Application – apply, change, compute demonstrate, dramatize, illustrate, interpret
Analysis – analyze, appraise, calculate, contrast, debate, examine, infer, outline, question, solve
Synthesis – assemble, collect compile, design, devise, generate, manage, organize, perform, rearrange,
Evaluation – choose, compare, criticize, evaluate, interpret, measure, judge, justify

 

The foregoing are based on the understanding of learning and learning styles first articulated by Benjamin Bloom in the 1950s, now known as BLOOM'S TAXONOMY. The following links to Bloom's Taxonomy websites (and the lists of verbs there) might be helpful:

An excellent list of verbs according to the revised Bloom's Taxonomy

A summary of the evolution and theoretical underpinnings of Bloom's Taxonomy with useful links.

 

6. Some exemplars of good learning goals by discipline (members of the faculty are invited to contribute additional goals):

By the end of this course my students will be able to...

 

CIS (upper level):

  • apply quantitative methods to project planning, performance and monitoring.
  • explain software design and implementation processes.
  • demonstrate team skills.

Economics

  • use economic theory to explain government policies and their effects.

English (upper level)

  • state a position in an analytical essay.
  • back the position with evidence from a literary work.
  • acknowledge alternative points of view.
  • use the library to find literary critical works.
  • integrate others’ work smoothly into the students’ own interpretations.
  • avoid over reliance on sources.
  • cite sources accurately and correctly.
  • organize an essay in a logical fashion.

History

  • describe basic historical events and people.
  • argue as a historian does:
    • take a position on a debatable historical issue;
    • use historical data as evidence for the position; and
    • raise and answer counterarguments.

International Business (upper level):

  • create a detailed plan for an existing business to expand into a foreign market.
  • orally present a solution to an international business problem to a real business customer.
  • apply learned functional skills in a competitive business setting.

Management (upper level):

  • analyze the impact that technology has on the spread and growth of international business.
  • systematically analyze a “firm” in the context of home and foreign markets.
  • demonstrate how ethics and culture affects and is affected by international business.

Math

  • solve [certain kinds of] mathematical problems.
  • explain [in writing/orally] what they are doing as they solve a problem and why they’re doing it.

Adapted from Mary J. Allen, Assessing Academic Programs in Higher Education (Anker, 2008).

  Based in part on Walfoord and Anderson, Effective Grading (Jossey-Bass, 1998).

For learning goals extended ad absurdum, see Alfred Friedland, "Learning Goals for Laertes."