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Articulate Student Learning Objectives

Learning objectives consist of a subject, a verb, and a demonstrated learning outcome.

Learning objectives are statements that specify what students will know or be able to do as a result of earning their degrees. Effective objectives are usually expressed as knowledge, skills, or abilities that students will possess upon successful completion of a program. 

Like program goals, student learning objectives are often informed by a professional organization's outcomes statements and the institution's mission and goals.

Learning objectives provide guidance for faculty regarding content, instruction, and evaluation, and serve as the basis for ensuring program effectiveness.

Characteristics of Effective Student Learning Objectives

Student learning objectives should be clear, concise statements that describe how students can demonstrate their mastery of program learning goals.
Each student learning objective statement must be measurable. When crafting learning objective statements, programs should avoid vague language, such as "understand" or "appreciate," because these verbs are difficult to measure. Programs should instead focuses attention on more concrete verbs such as "define," "argue," "analyze,""apply," "integrate," etc.


  1. English - Present original interpretations of literary works in the context of existing research on these works
  2. Environmental Science - Critically evaluate the effectiveness of agencies, organizations, and programs addressing environmental problems 
  3. Theater - Use voice, movement, and understanding of dramatic character and situation to affect and audience 
  4. Women's Studies - Use gender as an analytical category to critique cultural and social institutions

Well-written learning objectives help guide the choice of assessment methods. Course papers could provide the assessment materials for the learning objectives in English, Environmental Sciences or Women's Studies. A theater student could demonstrate the skills embedded in the theater learning objectives in a performance.

From: Linda Suskie, Assessing Student Learning:  A Common Sense Guide, Second Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009, page 132.

  1. Objectives should have active verbs—how students can demonstrate their learning. Avoid words and phrases like understand, know, demonstrate understanding of, and demonstrate knowledge of.
  2. Objectives can be stated in simple language; the details are in the rubrics.
  3. Objectives should be real, not aspirational. Faculty systematically teach and grade students on their achievement of real learning objectives.
  4. Objectives should be consistent with the program's mission.
  5. Be careful with compound objectives. If parts require different lines of evidence, they should be separate objectives, e.g., Students can write and speak effectively is two objectives, not one. If the objective has many verbs, maybe some are redundant or less important, e.g.,Students can analyze, break apart, describe, summarize, criticize, and separate the components of a piece of literature.
  6. Don't confuse objectives with learning processes, e.g., Complete a thesis is not an objective.
  7. Sometimes an "or" helps you draft an objective for programs with optional tracks, e.g.,Students can analyze works of art or they can create works of art.
  8. Focus on high-priority learning. What are the most important things that students should be able to do after completing your program? What objectives are faculty passionate about teaching their students?
  9. Consider including basic skills that your program develops, such as written and oral communication, critical thinking, collaboration, leadership, information competence, quantitative reasoning, and the use of technology. If you are a WASC Senior campus, remember the five core competencies: writing, speaking, critical thinking, information literacy, and quantitative reasoning.
  10. Consider "attitudinal" objectives, such as those related to civic engagement, diversity, professionalism, and respect for civility in interpersonal communication. Sometimes "can explain the importance of" is a good way to state and assess such objective.
  11. If you offer programs at multiple levels (e.g., AA, BA, Master's, Doctorate), specify program learning objectives that distinguish among the levels.

*Material adapted from Cal Poly, The New School, Linda Suskie, Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide, and Mary Allen, handout at WASC Leadership Academy.

  • Student Learning Objectives for Graduate Programs

    Graduate programs also need to develop student learning objectives.

    Although the process for developing learning objectives for graduate programs is similar to undergraduate programs, there are some specific considerations.

Verbs for Learning Objectives

Bloom's Taxonomy is a useful tool for characterizing the type and level of learning objective the program wishes to foster.