Office of Educational Assessment


Implementing student learning goals at the course and departmental levels has several benefits.

Increased student awareness of their own learning

Explicitly-stated learning goals give students a way to think and talk about what they have learned. They make it easier for students to “know what they know” and give students a language to communicate what they know to others. Such awareness is considered central to learning that lasts (see Bransford, J. et al., How People Learn, 1999, National Research Council).

Improved program planning and development

Departmental learning goals help faculty plan the curriculum, assess coherence and sequencing, and evaluate the learning of majors. In addition, they signal the department’s disciplinary identity and provide a common language that students, faculty, and staff share. This common language can facilitate communication and build bridges among various departmental services for students, such as advising and instruction.Creating a framework for course design and redesign. Development of student learning goals provides:

A map for curricular assessment and change. Use of learning goals helps departments think about curriculum. When learning goals are defined, departments and programs can determine the courses that address each goal. Curricular maps can reveal desired and undesired redundancies, overlaps, and gaps in programs for majors.

A framework for course development. Faculty often find that it is much easier to plan a course when they begin with where they hope their students will end. Another place to begin planning or revising a course is where faculty know students will face difficulty in the course (see Pace, D. & Middendorf, J., eds., Decoding the Disciplines: Helping Students Learn Disciplinary Ways of Thinking, 2004, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.) Identifying student learning goals helps faculty structure their courses, identify pedagogical strategies, and design assignments, tests, projects, class discussion, and other course elements to help students meet those goals.

Criteria to assess students’ progress and direct course revision. This assists faculty to incorporate the skills, methodology, and thinking that the major values into their classes. Finally, course-based learning goals identify for departments the values and practices of the faculty delivering the departmental curricula. In so doing, course-based goals inform departmental learning goals.

Improved academic advising

Learning goals for each course are an important first step toward clearly communicating expectations to students, assisting them, and their advisors, in matching courses and majors with student interests and capabilities.

Support for institutional assessment

Course-based and departmental learning goals and their assessment demonstrate how College and University learning goals are translated through lenses and curricula of the disciplines those units represent. Furthermore, a relational model can show larger units within the institution how the parts relate to the whole.

Evidence for accreditation

Many accrediting association, including the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges, have modified their requirements to include student learning goals and evidence that assessment of student learning relative to those goals is used in curricular improvement.