Define educational goals

In broad terms, Educational Goals are statements that describe the competences, skills, and attributes that students should possess upon completion of a course or program. They often operate within the interacting domains of knowledge, skills and attitudes.

Defining Educational Goals: Two approaches

The university recognizes that the nature of the goals, and the definition and assessment of them, will vary by program. As a result, there are a number of different ways goals can be articulated, two of which are outlined below.

Approach 1

Academic units may decide to define Educational Goals in broad terms, focusing on the anticipated benefits to students from participation in a program. For example, units may define a goal by stating what skills, attributes, competencies, and/or qualities are expected from students upon completion of the program; for example, “research skills,” “communication skills,” “critical thinking,” and “creative writing.” In order to assess these broadly defined goals, units can create a list of attributes associated with each of these goals. For example, “research skills” may subsume the following:

  • Library research skills
  • Research proposal writing
  • Constructing a research question
  • Evaluating a research question by using specific methodologies (e.g., content analysis)

Or, “critical thinking” may subsume the following:

  • Critically analyzing text (e.g., historical, policy, newspaper, film, etc., depending on the discipline)
  • Critically analyzing evidence, arguments, and opposing interpretations
  • Challenging underlying assumptions and values and offering alternatives

Once the program level Educational Goals have been defined, units need to map them to their curriculum. This step will allow units to identify where in their curriculum each Educational Goal is covered.

Approach 2

Another way to define an Educational Goal is to formulate it as a statement and include an action verb and the competency required by the graduates of a program or a course; for example:

By the end of this program, students will be able to <<action verb>> <<something>>.

The following points may be useful for defining Educational Goals based on the second approach:

  • The Educational Goal should be a complete phrase describing what students should and/or will be able to do by the end of the program (e.g., “By the end of this program, students will be able to …”).
  • The Educational Goal should start with an action verb, followed by a statement specifying the learning to be demonstrated, and finally a statement (or statements) to give it a context and to identify a standard for acceptable performance.
  • The Educational Goal should be balanced. If it is too broadly defined, it will be difficult to assess. However, if the list of Educational Goals is long and detailed, each one is likely to be too specific and may limit flexibility and adaptability in the curriculum.
  • The Educational Goal should be realistic given the time and resources available to both learners and instructors.

Resources for writing Educational Goals