What do you want your students to accomplish?

Identifying Outcomes, Objectives, and Activities in 3 hours

While it is tempting to start identifying activities and topics for a course based on your interests and/or what the textbook covers, we really need to step back and identify what students are required to accomplish as a result of taking your course. By analyzing this, we can identify the required and desired student outcomes. This can then lead us to developing more specific goals (objectives). Writing these outcomes and objectives in precise, clear terms will help both you and your students: Your students will know what they are expected to learn and how well (under what conditions and to what level of expertise) and you will be able to ensure all activities are related directly to helping students achieve these goals.

Entire books have been written about how to write good learning objectives. My purpose here is not to rewrite those, but rather to provide an overall process that may help you. As a result of following this process, you will be able to:

  • Identify the core course requirements
  • Define what skills, knowledge, and attitudes (SKAs) your students will have at the end of your course

Develop course outcomes

Course outcomes are the high-level goals for the students. Whether required or an elective, your course is part of one or more programs. Each program has defined learning goals and each course has a predefined description that supports these.  Therefore, you need to identify what these are – what students must be able to do as a result of taking your course. Your course may also be a pre-requisite for other courses, so you need to identify what must they be able to do to successfully start those courses.

Start with program(s) & course description – 10 minutes

Your department administrative team and/or program manager/department head should be able to provide the program and course descriptions. Check the descriptions for each course that requires yours as a pre- or co-requisite. You may want to talk with instructors of these courses to ensure you have a complete list of required SKAs. Also check courses, entry exams, etc. that students must take before registering for yours. From these, identify the basic goals/outcomes for your course.

You may want to use form W1.1 to list these draft outcomes.

Example 1:

At Cleveland State University, both the Bachelor of Arts in Criminology and the Accounting Major require ENG 101 College Writing. ENG 101 is described as:

ENG 101 College Writing I (3-0-3). Prerequisite: Placement by ACT/SAT scores or English Placement Exam, or completion of ENG 099 or ENG 100. This course instructs students in the basic skills of expository and argumentative writing. Supplemental instruction is available for this course by taking ENG 105. Each Fall and Spring semester, a special section of ENG 101 is offered for students whose native language is not English. Writing Center assistance for this course is available by taking ENG 105 (2 credits) (from https://mycsu.csuohio.edu/undergradcatalog/courses/courindex/desc/eng.htm).

And, “English 101-College Writing I and English 100-Intentive College Writing are courses dedicated to a sequence of academic writing assignments beginning with summaries and progressing through critiques, synthesis, and analyses. During this sequence, you will also be exposed to the writing process, critical reading, and conducting, citing, and documenting college-level research.” (From https://artsandsciences.csuohio.edu/english/first-year-writing).

Based on the description, we can assume the course must include information about the differences between expository and argumentative writing. Further, it must include skills-building on each. The detailed description includes more information on the types of assignments, so each of these must also be discussed, described, and practiced so students will be able to accomplish each.

Example 2:

At Purdue University, undergraduates entering the business school were required to take an IDT course that taught basic MS Office skills. After talking with the business school instructors, the IDT instructor identified specific Excel skills students would need.

Add what you want them to also accomplish – 15 minutes

In some cases, you may have additional desired outcomes. These may be specific to your field of interest, more in-depth learning about a facet of the subject, guidance on how to learn, or other topics that you believe will help students. You may want to check chapter A3 for Angelo & Cross’s Teaching Goals Inventory, Fink’s Significant Learning categories, and AAC&U’s Goals for Liberal Education to see if any additional topics are important to you.

Use this list and the information from W1.1 to start form W2.1a.


If you have a specialty in legal writing, you may want to have students identify and write summaries of legal briefs, and perhaps have students explain how these differ from argumentative essays.

An instructor of a course in computing skills (such as Ohio State’s CSE 2111) might want to include a goal of understanding how the tools interact so students can effectively use Excel and PowerPoint to build graphics for Word essays.

Id what they need to be able to do before that – 10 minutes

Some learning outcomes may have prerequisite skills, knowledge and/or attitudes (SKAs). You need to determine what these are to ensure you have a complete set of outcomes and objectives. Many of these will be taught in previous courses but think this through before you make any assumptions.

Add these to the rough-draft of outcomes on W2.1a.


ENG 101 requires the prior ability to read and write complete sentences in English. A prerequisite for CSE 2111 is Math 1130. However, can you assume students already have the ability to create a basic spreadsheet, save a Word document, and explain the differences between Excel and Access? What about access to a computer and Internet?

Subtract what they already can do – 10 minutes

Many courses have prerequisites such as program entry tests, general course requirements, previous courses, and/or work experience, etc. Review the prerequisites for your course to determine what you can already expect from your students. Check this against the rough-draft outcomes you created to eliminate any SKAs the students should already have. You now should have a good list of draft outcomes.


Entry to the university may include admissions essays and tests to ensure students have a base level of reading and writing.

On the first day of a CSE 2111 course should you administer a basic skills exam or survey to determine a good beginning point?

Identify stumbling blocks – 5 minutes

Some learning outcomes may be more difficult than others for students. Outcomes that require a different method of thinking or applying knowledge may present blocks (threshold concepts). Some may require reorganizing knowledge and skills (changing schema). If you have observed or heard of these, identifying them can help you identify special activities that will help students move past the block.

Makes notes for any outcomes you need to add, change, or emphasize based on this.


International students may not understand the common English practice of sequence for adjectives (The big, red house as opposed to the red, big house). Nonresidential students may have limited internet and/or computing access.

Write up your outcomes – 15 minutes

Check Bloom’s Taxonomies (more info available here) to identify an appropriate verb for each outcome. While most higher education instructors focus on the cognitive domain, please also look at the affective and psychomotor taxonomies. Some outcomes may fall within these. The affective domain includes the value we place on the situation. The psychomotor includes any required physical aspects of a task.

Note the taxonomy and level and finalize your outcomes on the form W2.1a.

Draft a list of evidences – 15 minutes

For each outcome, draft a list of what final evidence you could expect from students to show they can accomplish the outcome. This may be a test, project, essay or some other activity.

Develop course objectives

Outcomes are relatively high-level and therefore are complex to measure. The next set of steps breaks down each outcome into measurable objectives. Each outcome will probably result in 4-5 objectives, and each of these can be mapped to a taxonomy and level. Although an objective may be at a lower level than the outcome, it should not be any higher.

Draft your objectives – 30 minutes

Break down each outcome into individual SKAs on W2.1d and/or W2.1b. This may be a series of steps in a project but may also be scaffolded learning such as displaying understanding of terms, then applying the terms to a situation, then providing a report of how the terms relate to each other. Look again at the verbs on tables 1, 2, and 3 here. Take note of which taxonomy and which level on that taxonomy best matches what students need to be able to do.

As mentioned above, many books are available on how to write objectives (probably the most famous of these is Mager, 1997). I have included more information about writing outcomes and objectives here: C2 – Course Design for HE Instructors (designgrp.online). However, many online resources are also available. Wikiversity offers a series: Instructional design/Learning objectives – Wikiversity And this site will walk you through the steps to develop an objective: https://cdl.ucf.edu/teach/resources/objective-builder-tool/

Make them SMART – 15 minutes

Now you have the verb, you can identify the conditions such as timeframes, given physical environments, and accuracy expected from the students. The SMART guidelines are available here: C2 – Course Design for HE Instructors.

Ask yourself “What is reasonable for students to be able to accomplish?,” “How well will they need to be able to complete it?” and “What conditions apply?” This will lead you to more precision in assuring your activities match the outcomes.

Use W2.1b -Measurable Objective Format to finalize your objectives – W2.1-Forms.docx (live.com). As a final check, use form W2.1c to make sure you have a direct and complete match between outcomes and objectives.

Id activities & tests – 15 minutes

Reviewing the Bloom’s tables and other resources again, identify activities for each objective. Check each activity against the objective’s and outcome’s taxonomy and level to ensure you have a match. C7 – Course Design for HE Instructors (designgrp.online) includes links to lists of types of assessments and activities.

More Info

Details on Bloom – A6 – Course Design for HE Instructors (designgrp.online)

Backward design – B3 – Course Design for HE Instructors (designgrp.online) Learning Goals, Outcomes, & Objectives C2 – Course Design for HE Instructors (designgrp.online)

Learning Goals, Outcomes, & Objectives C2 – Course Design for HE Instructors (designgrp.online)


Angelo, T., & Cross, K. P. (n.d.). Teaching Goals Inventory, Self-Scorable Version. Retrieved January 14, 2021, from http://www.tusculum.edu/adult/learning/docs/TeachingGoalsInventory.pdf

Mager, R. F. (1997). Preparing Instructional Objectives: A Critical Tool in the Development of Effective Instruction (3 edition). Center for Effective Performance.

Objective Builder Tool—UCF. (n.d.). Center for Distributed Learning, University of Central Florida. Retrieved July 5, 2023, from https://cdl.ucf.edu/teach/resources/objective-builder-tool/

Wikiversity. (2018, May 29). Instructional design/Learning objectives. https://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Instructional_design/Learning_objectives

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