Assessment Terminology

Assessment Terminology: Goals, Outcomes & Objectives

Knowing what someone means when s/he says "goal," "outcome," or "objective" is tricky. These three terms are often used interchangeably in the education and assessment literature. To make matters worse, some disciplines specify definitions for these terms that are at odds with the definitions specified in other disciplines. Because of this, it is important to be explicit about what you mean by each term and to use each term consistently.

The Simmons University Office of Assessment uses the terms as follows:

Goals — Broad, generalized statements about what is to be learned.

  • They are lofty, visionary targets to be reached.
  • They are not measurable.
  • They loosely define what is to be learned, but are too broad and "fuzzy" for designing assessment.
  • Example:
    • Simmons students will write effectively.

(Student Learning) Outcomes — Statements of what a student should know, understand and/or be able to demonstrate after completion of a process of learning (e.g., a course or a program).

  • They are the end, not the means; the outcome, not the process.
  • They focus on a learner's behavior to be changed.
  • They use verbs that are measurable or that describe an observable action.
  • They lead to easier assessment.
  • They do not indicate specific activities to be engaged in during instruction.
  • They enable a coherent curriculum.
  • They should not include the following verbs: know, understand, appreciate, aware, familiar.
  • Example:
    • Students will use precise words and phrases, telling details, and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and/or characters.

Objectives — Statements of what you are setting out to teach and/or specific processes which may help students achieve student learning outcomes.

  • They are a means to the end and often written in terms of teaching intentions, e.g., what will be covered.
  • They provide a very good idea of the specific activities students will be engaging in.
  • They support and facilitate student learning outcomes.
  • Development of learning objectives belongs in the hands of course faculty.
  • Examples:
    • Students will gain an understanding of the historical origins of art history.
    • Student will read and analyze seminal works in 20th Century American literature.
    • Students will study the major U.S. regulatory agencies.
    • Students will write essays, critique drafts of their peers, maintain a journal in which they reflect on their growth as writers.


Useful assessment glossaries: