Articulate Goals for Student Learning

Teacher articulating goals

What do you expect students to learn?

Articulate goals for student learning 

Educational equity depends on individual and collective capacity to reflect on, and clearly articulate, learning goals for students.

The process of developing learning outcomes invites faculty to reflect on, and then translate, that embodied disciplinary knowledge into clear expectations for students in their majors. We wouldn't want to leave something as important as student learning and success to guesswork.  


Effective Goals for Learning: 

  • Represent intentional alignment between course, program, and campus goals for learning. 
  • Describe the knowledge, skills, and abilities you expect students to display at the end of the course or program. 
  • Focus on what students will do (NOT what the course covers or program includes).

Align program and course learning goals 

Instructors express goals for student learning through Course Learning Outcomes, which derive from undergraduate program goals for learning (Program Learning Outcomes), which describe the focused and discipline-specific skills, knowledge, and abilities expected of students matriculating from an individual program or major. Program goals for learning ideally reflect the UC Davis Campus Goals for Undergraduate Learners, which express our broadest goals for student learning.

Articulate goals that are both aspirational and achievable

Goals for learning should describe our highest expectations for UC Davis graduates; they must also be achievable within a given timeframe and context. While a program might expect learners to "communicate [disciplinary] knowledge effectively through written, visual and/or oral forms appropriate to purpose and audience," the corresponding course goal is more specific realistic: Students will deliver a conference-style presentation based on analyses of [course content].

Make learning goals transparent

Effective learning outcomes statements clarify expectations through precise word choice. To increase transparency, use language which highlights the observable behaviors or skills students will display (e.g., evaluate, critique, produce, design). What does "understanding" look like? How do we know if a student "knows" something? What does "think critically" or "communicate effectively" look or sound like? A useful resource for effectively describing your expectations for student learning is the revised Bloom's Taxonomy

Goals for student learning inform instructional practice

Expectations, both explicit and implicit, about students and student learning inform every instructional act (Anderson, Krathwohl, Airasian, Cruikshank, Mayer, Pintrich, Raths, & Wittrock, 2001). Ironically, faculty expertise does not always translate directly to clear goals for student learning. As experts, many faculty demonstrate their disciplinary mastery "so automatically and instinctively that they are no longer consciously aware of what they know or do” (Ambrose et al, 2010, p. 97)Unfortunately, the implicit nature of unconscious competence often creates unintended obstacles for students. (When you're an expert in your field, it's easy to forget what it was like to be a novice.) Asking yourself about your expectations for student learning may help bring your implicit expectations about disciplinary knowledge, skills, and abilities to an explicit level. Do you remember what it was like when you were a novice in your field? How often do you reflect on your growth from novice to expert? How do your past experiences influence your current expectations for students?