Please note: This site's design is only visible in a graphical browser that supports Web Standards, but its content is accessible to any browser or Internet device. To see this site as it was designed please upgrade to a Web standards compliant browser.

Program-Based Review and Assessment: Tools and Techniques for Program Improvement

Download PDF version of the handbook

Defining Goals and Objectives

Program Goals:

Program Objectives:


What are program goals and objectives?

Developing an effective assessment plan begins with being clear about what program faculty are trying to accomplish. A clear statement of learning goals and objectives serves as the foundation for the entire plan ­ shaping the kinds of questions you will ask, the assessment methods you will employ, and determining how useful your assessment results are for making programmatic changes.

Just like the term "assessment," there are varying definitions of "goals." For consistency and ease of understanding as you work through this handbook, the following terms will be used as defined:

Developing program goals: Where do you start?

Developing agreeed upon program-specific student learning goals is not always a quick and easy task. Departments vary in the extent to which the faculty share a common disciplinary framework or epistemology. Before actually writing or revising departmental goals and objectives, try some of the following activities:

Have open discussions with department faculty on one of the following topics or similar topics
Collect and review instructional materials

Try sorting materials by the type of learning each one is designed to promote: recognition/recall, comprehension/simple application, critical thinking/problem-solving. Use any of the following: Syllabi and course outlines, Course assignments and tests, Textbooks

Collect and review documents that describe your department and its programs

Such documents could include the following: Brochures and catalogue descriptions, Accreditation reports, Mission statements

Use the 25 percent problem to refine or reduce a set of goal statements

Imagine that you want to reduce program or course material by 25 percent. What goals would you keep and which would you discard?

adapted from the Ball State University, Assessment Workbook (1999)

Writing program goals: Where do you start?

Goals can focus on general outcomes for graduates as well as discipline-specific outcomes relevant to the department or program itself. Examples include:

It is generally a good idea to identify between three and five instructional goals for your program. However, if you and other members of your department can agree on only one goal, don't let this stall your progress. Focus on that one goal ­ more will come later.

Developing Program Objectives: Where Do You Start?

Program objectives transform the general program goals you developed above into specific student performance and behaviors that demonstrate student learning and skill development along these goals.

Before drafting objectives, it might be helpful to consider these three questions, which focus on objectives in slightly different ways:

  1. For each of your stated goals, what are the specific student behaviors, skills, or abilities that would tell you this goal is being achieved?
  2. Ideally and briefly, what would a skeptic need (evidence, behavior, etc.), in order to see that your students are achieving the major goals you have set out for them?
  3. In your experience, what evidence tells you when students have met these goals ­ how do you know when they're "getting" it?
Types of Objectives

There are three types of learning objectives, which reflect different aspects of student learning:

Levels of Objectives

Objectives can also reflect different levels of learning:

Writing program objectives: Where do you start?

When writing program objectives, describe realistic and achievable outcomes in simple language. Even if a learning objective that is important to you seems difficult to measure, try to word the objective into language that focuses on student behavior.

Effectively worded objectives:

adapted from California State University, Bakersfield, PACT Outcomes Assessment Handbook (1999) and Diamond, Rober M., Designing and Assessing Courses and Curricula (1998)

Program objectives should be accepted and supported by members of the department. Developing appropriate and useful objectives is an iterative process; it's not unusual to go back a number of times to refine objectives. In most cases, it is only when you try to develop assessment techniques for program objectives that the need for refining those objectives becomes apparent.

Bloom's Taxonomy

Bloom's Taxonomy (1964) [Table 1] is a well-known description of levels of educational objectives. It may be useful to consider this taxonomy when defining your objectives.

Verb Power

Concrete verbs such as "define," "argue," or "create" are more helpful for assessment than vague verbs such as "know," "understand," or passive verbs such as "be exposed to." Some examples of action words frequently used in objectives are included in Table 2.

adapted from California State University, Bakersfield, PACT Outcomes Assessment Handbook (1999)

Examples of Goals and Objectives

As a department, you will develop goals and objectives specific to your department, discipline or field. The goals and objectives that follow [Table 3] are examples for you to consider as you think about your own.

Examples on this page have been adapted from California State University, Bakersfield, PACT Outcomes Assessment Handbook (1999).

Assessment Consulting