Office of Educational Assessment

Learning Goals

These pages are intended to assist faculty in crafting student learning goals. UW program-level learning goals are cataloged under Assessment in the Majors.

Student learning goals are part of a cyclical process to improve both teaching and learning. At the UW, the instructional cycle is a process that most effectively occurs at the departmental level in the hands of the faculty who understand the practices, conventions, and methods that their disciplines convey to majors.


Learning goals can be written for individual courses or for academic programs. They answer two questions:

What do you want students to know by the time they finish a course or a major?
This is a question about the content of the course or major and about the relationships between content areas.

What do you want students to be able to do with what they know?
This is a question about the skills that are important to the course or the major—how students learn and use the content of the discipline to make or report meaning.

Course-based and departmental learning goals are interactive. Most commonly, faculty members design learning goals for their departments by discussing what they believe is essential to student learning in their disciplines. Usually those discussions are rooted in the skills and knowledge that faculty members teach in their own courses, as well as in the accepted practices of their academic disciplines. Once faculty members have agreed on departmental goals for student learning, they can use them as guides for articulating new or revised learning goals for their own courses.

There is no one right way to develop learning goals. The process can be either top-down (basing course-level goals on learning goals for the major) or bottom-up (inferring program goals from existing course goals). More likely, it will be an evolving combination of the two. Most importantly, student learning goals represent the structure and character of the particular discipline in which they are situated and the collective wisdom of the faculty.