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Washington State University Graduate School

Goals and Objectives

These terms are often used interchangeably, but in planning and assessment, significant differences exist between the two.

What are goals?

  • They are broad, general directional statements that are not typically specific enough to be measurable.
  • Goals tell us what the program wants students to be able to do and to know, or what the program will do to ensure what students will be able to do and to know.
  • They are evaluated directly or indirectly by measuring specific outcomes related to the objective.
  • They are related to the mission and goals of the department and college in which the program resides, and to the mission and goals of the University (1).

What are objectives?

  • They are concise, specific and measurable, and written in quantifiable terms.
  • There may be multiple objectives supporting a single goal.
  • Objectives measured in assessment are typically behavioral (precisely, what would you like your graduate students to demonstrate?); however, objectives may also be attitudinal (What do you want your graduate students to think?) or even informational (What do you want them to know or to learn?). The key point is they must be specific to be measurable (1).

Learning Outcomes

What are outcomes?

  • Outcomes are more detailed and specific statements derived from the objectives. They are used to determine the presence or absence of, or amount of, or level of the behavior or knowledge specified by an objective.
  • They may be things the program wants students to know (cognitive), ways students think (affective/attitudinal), or things students should be able to do (behavioral, performance, psychomotor).
  • Outcomes are observable, measurable results or evidence of the educational experience.
  • They are detailed and meaningful enough to guide decisions in program planning and improvement and decisions about pedagogy and practice (2).

What are student learning outcomes?

  • Student learning outcomes are the accumulated knowledge, skills, and attitudes that students develop during a course of study. Learning outcomes are a particular category of program outcomes, which may include broader elements such as graduation rates, faculty and graduate students’ publications, and job placement (2).

References and Resources Cited Above

  1. By Craig Miyamoto, APR, Fellow PRSA; from the 2002 Second Quarter issue of Public Relations Strategies, a quarterly publication of Miyamoto Strategic Counsel
  2. Institutional Assessment and Studies at the University of Virginia