The Baruch College Faculty Handbook

Guidelines for Writing Learning Goals

Last updated on 8/10/2015

The School Curriculum Committees require all courses to have appropriate learning goals.


For learning goals for specific degrees, programs, majors, and minors at Baruch, see:
http://www.baruch.cuny.edu/assessment/Learning_Goals.htm

 

1. Learning goals are different from 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 general way. For example, we might see a statement formulated like this:

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.


As a statement of teaching goals, this is fine. But the statement does not address the question of what students will actually take away from the course and so it is not 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.


Stated succintly: learning goals should describe actions that students will be able to perform upon completing a course. Therefore, they differ 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 author of the statement above should be asking him or herself: 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? (Possible answers -- they will be able to: define them; explain how they developed; and list or outline these controversies.)

 

2. In formulating learning goals the members of the Assessment Committee suggest using the phrase: “students 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) After listening to a piece of Western music, students will be able to identify which style period it belongs to [and justify their answer]; 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 complete an original research project and communicate the results in an oral presentation.  Difficult to assess as a whole: some students might complete wonderful projects but present them poorly (or vice versa).
  • Better: 1) Students will complete an original research project; and 2) Students will 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 exemples of well-written learning goals by discipline (members of the faculty are invited to contribute additional goals):

 

CIS (upper level)   By the end of this course, students will be able to...

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


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

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


English
(upper level)   By the end of this course, students will be able to...

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

  • 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)   By the end of this course, students will be able to...

  • 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)   By the end of this course, students will be able to...

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

  • 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."