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Ohio University: Center for Teaching & Learning Key Terms

Learning objectives, outcomes, and related terms are defined variously in the assessment literature; there is no single set of agreed-upon definitions.
Regardless of terminology, the “bottom line” is to develop learning statements to communicate what students are expected to know, accomplish, or be able to do and how students will show that course or program goals have been met.

Below is a helpful glossary of key terms related to educational objectives and assessment (adapted from Gateway Coalition Faculty Workbook; ABET, 2009, p. 1).


Course Objective: A statement that describes what you want to accomplish by the end of the course and what will students know and be able to do when they have completed the course.

Types of learning objectives include 1) knowledge; 2) abilities; and 3) dispositions. (Dispositional outcomes include affective outcomes, personal/professional/social values; ethical principles.)

Strategies/Action: A statement that states what activities, assignments, processes, etc. are to be put in place to enable the course objective to be accomplished.

Student Learning Outcome: A learning outcome is a precise statement derived from a course objective and related strategy, stating what change is expected to occur if the strategy is implemented and objective met. Learning outcomes should state what knowledge and skills are to be acquired and demonstrated by each student by the end of the course.

Assessment Method and Use: Assessment strategies describe processes used to collect evidence of course outcomes, what the measures will be and by what method(s) will they be collected. In addition, method statements should include how the assessment data will be used to effect improvement.


Program educational objectives are broad statements that describe the career, professional, or other accomplishments that the program is preparing graduates to achieve (adapted from ABET, 2009, p. 1).

Program outcomes are narrower statements that describe what students are expected to know and be able to do by the time of graduation. These relate to the skills, knowledge, and behaviors that students acquire in their matriculation in the program (ABET, 2009, p. 1).