Both learning goals and learning objectives are crucial elements of education – they allow learners to see where their learning is going, and how it is developing, and they allow teachers to monitor progress and assess results.
It is important to note, however, that learning goals vs objectives are different, and serve different purposes – and we have the information that you need to understand them.
What Are The Main Types Of Learning Goals?
There are three main types of learning goals that you could choose from when writing your own learning goals:
Learning Outcomes Or Goals
These are the most common types of learning goals. They describe what the learner should be able to do by the end of the course or module.
For example, if you were teaching a course on the history of art, you might write something like “By the end of the course, students should be able to identify key periods in the development of Western art”.
These are similar to learning outcomes, but they are slightly different. Instead of describing what the learner should do, they describe what the learner will actually achieve.
If you were teaching a course in which you wanted to teach students how to make their own Christmas cards, you might write something along the lines of “Students will be able to design their own Christmas card using digital tools”
These are often used in conjunction with learning objectives. Rather than being standalone pieces of text, assessment tasks are usually embedded within the learning objectives themselves.
For example, if you were teaching a course on the use of technology in education, you might include some questions about the use of social media in the course outline.
Then, you might add a few examples of things that you want students to learn during the course, including how to create a Facebook page and how to use Twitter.
Finally, you might add some assessment tasks, such as asking students to submit a blog post on the topic of their choice.
Learning Goals Versus Objectives
A learning goal is a statement about what you want your learner to know and be able to do by the end of the course – this is the overarching, ultimate goal and ambition that you have for your students at the end of your course – for example, a learning goal could be “to learn how to write an essay”.
A learning objective, on the other hand, breaks this down and is a statement about what your learner will actually know and be able to demonstrate when they have completed the course – these are clear, measurable competencies that will allow you to assess whether the learner is meeting the goal.
In the example above, where the goal is to write an essay, a corresponding learning objective could be “to be able to write a paragraph with appropriate grammar, punctuation and structure”.
Essentially, learning goals are more general, while learning objectives are more specific.
Why Use Learning Goals?
So what is the purpose of using learning goals with your students? There are a number of advantages, and these include:
Setting Out Aims For The Course
Firstly, as we have already mentioned, learning goals help you to set out your overall aims for your course, and they also provide a framework for assessing student achievement throughout the course.
Learning goals can also help you manage assessments in your course.
By setting out clearly defined learning outcomes, you can ensure that all assessment tasks and learning objectives are aligned to those learning outcomes, and therefore make sure that you are not missing any key points along the way.
This means that you can easily identify which areas of the curriculum require further attention, and which ones are well covered.
Providing Feedback To Students
Thirdly, learning goals can help to give feedback to students. As we have seen, learning goals are broad statements about what the learner should know and be able to achieve by the end of the module or unit.
These statements can then be used to guide discussions between teacher and student, and to provide feedback to students on their performance during the course.
Providing Guidance On Assessment Tasks
Learning goals can also be used to guide assessment tasks.
Again, as we have seen, learning objectives are very specific statements about what the learners should know and be able to demonstrate by the end of the unit or module, and these build up to create the wider, overall learning goals – these can then be very useful got guiding assessments, as students will have a good understanding of what is expected from them from the overall course.
Why Use Learning Objectives?
Now let’s take a look at some of the reasons why you might choose to use learning objectives instead of learning goals. These may include:
Making Your Teaching More Specific
As we have seen, learning objects are much more specific than learning goals. They break down the learning into smaller chunks so that it becomes easier to monitor progress toward each individual objective.
This makes it easier to see exactly what needs to be done next and allows you to focus your teaching time on just one aspect of the learning rather than trying to cover everything at once.
Easier To Understand And Implement
In many ways, learning objectives are much more precise than learning goals, and this makes it easier to understand how they relate to the rest of the curriculum.
It also makes it easier to implement them in practice, as there is less ambiguity around what you need to do.
Finally, learning objectives are much more flexible than learning goals. You can change them over time depending on the progress of your students, without having to go back through every single piece of work and rewrite them as you would overall learning goals.
This makes it easy to adapt them to meet new requirements, such as changes in the curriculum or new information coming to light.
How To Choose Learning Goals And Objectives
Choosing the right learning goal for your course is an important part of planning your teaching, as this will inform and underpin the activities you ask your students to complete.
In order to select the best type of learning goal for your course, you need to consider several factors. Let’s take a look at these now.
What Is The Purpose Of The Course?
The first thing to think about when choosing your learning goals is the purpose of the course.
What does the course aim to achieve? Do you want to teach students something new, or do you want to reinforce the knowledge that has already been learned?
If you’re looking to teach something new, then you’ll probably want to use learning objectives.
However, if you want to reinforce existing knowledge, then learning goals are likely to be better suited to your purposes – these are broader and less specific.
The Importance Of Assessment
Another factor to consider is the importance of assessment within the course.
If you plan to assess all of your learning goals, then you’ll need to make sure that you’ve chosen the most appropriate types of learning goals for this.
For example, if you were teaching a course where you wanted to test students’ understanding of a particular concept, then you’d probably want to use learning goals, as these are more general.
However, if you also plan to test their ability to apply this knowledge, then you could use learning objectives – these will show you how well students are mastering each stage of the course.
Your Students’ Needs
Finally, you should think about your own personal needs when deciding which type of learning goal to use.
Learning objectives are great for courses where you want to test students’ understanding at each stage and ensure that they have really grasped the nuances of a concept, building up to the overall learning goal.
On the other hand, learning goals are good for courses where you want students to learn something new but don’t necessarily need to test their understanding.
In summary, learning objectives are ideal for courses where you want learners to demonstrate their understanding of a topic more succinctly while learning goals are better suited to courses where you want to build upon previous knowledge and provide students with opportunities to practice skills – the goals are broader and more general.
As you can see, there are many different types of learning goals available to teachers, and understanding the difference between learning goals and objectives is an important element of successful teaching – particularly for online courses.
Having a good understanding of learning goals and objectives, and the differences between these two, will improve the quality of your teaching and help you to develop effective strategies for engaging your students.