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Educational objectives are the goals set either by onself or by educational establishments in order to focus peoples studies.

Such goals will reflect the educational aspirations of both teachers and students and the contents of the curriculum of courses.

The Compact Oxford English Dictionary and others interchangeably define the noun "objective" as, Objective: noun 1 a goal or aim.[1] While the noun forms of the three words aim, objective and goal are often used synonymously, among professionals in organised education, the words aim and objective are more narrowly defined and are distinct from each other. An objective is a measurable, observable behavior of less than a day's duration; a goal is the outcome of a series of successfully completed objectives, possibly measured over a series of days; while an aim is an expression of a long-term purpose, usually over the course of one or more years.[2][3]

Course aims

The course aims are the raison d'être of the course. In the context of an organised unit of education, such as a course module or course programme, an aim is a (relatively) long term goal. Sometimes an aim sets a goal for the teacher to achieve in relation to the learners, sometimes course aims explicitly list long term goals for the learner and at other times there is a joint goal for the teacher and learner to achieve together. While the aim may be phrased as a goal for the teacher within the scope of the course it can also imply goals for the learner beyond the duration of the course. In a statement of an aim the third person singular form of the verb with the subject course, programme or module is often used as an impersonal way of referring to the teaching staff and their goals. Similarly the learner is often referred to in the third person singular even when he or she is the intended reader.

For example,

The Nutrition and Dietetics programme aims to develop competent practising Allied Health Professionals who are equipped with the skills, knowledge, understanding and attitude necessary to be effective practitioners in the 21st century.[4]

The goal which is explicitly expressed here is owned by the teachers and its scope lies within the duration of the course but that goal is determined by the learner's personal goal to become a successful dietician, the scope of which lies beyond the course. The latter aim is strongly implied by the stated course aim.

[To] provide opportunities for students to develop a wide range of intellectual and other skills transferable to many jobs and professions.[5]

This explicitly sets a goal for teaching staff which they will try to achieve by the end of the course but implies that teachers will consider carefully the longer term goals of learners in all their diversity. I.e. the aim is both time-bound and forward looking.

Timescales for Aims

While teachers' aims are bound by the duration of the course, these aims are predicated on the needs and desires of learners, learners' families and society. The ultimate fulfilment of the aspirations of the learner and of stakeholders may come to fruition while the course is running, immediately after the end of the course or in the distant future depending on the course and on circumstane.

Specificity of Aims

Aims vary in degree of specificity from one course to another. Some aims are set knowing that it will be impossible or difficult to judge whether they have been achieved by each learner. A vocational course may include very specific aims related to performance in a specific career. Another course may aim simply to provide entertainment and enjoyment to its learners. enable students to appreciate the value of sociological inquiry and to enjoy studying the discipline[6]

This aim is very general and includes the concept of enjoyment which can be surveyed but not reliably quantified.

The aim of this module is to firstly review the operating principles of data communications protocols and then to develop the basic theory and practice required for evaluating the performance of communications systems and data networks, using discrete-state mathematical and computer simulation modelling methods.[7]

This aim is specific to how this course module fits within a complete programme of study. The verbs review and develop refer to the actions of the teachers whereas the verb evaluate refers to the learner. Teachers will review principles, develop theory and practice with a view to the students achieving the goal of being able to evaluate performance of certain systems. The latter is presumably a skill which will be required of a learner for progression in the programme of study and in employment when the programme is complete.

Structure of Aims

Aims can be aggregated and grouped in courses that are structured into modules. In these cases an audit process may be needed to ensure that the sum of the aims for course modules align with the overall programme aims. A programme aim may be addressed in a single module aim or may be addressed repeatedly by multiple course modules within the programme.

Achievement of Aims

In quality assured education processes are put in place to evaluate the achievement of aims. There are a number of ways to judge the success of an aim. If learners succeed or fail to achieve learning objectives this may indicate success in some aspects of the aims but other aims relate to things which are less easily measured. For some courses it is more important to ask learners to subjectively judge whether the aims were achieved and for vocational courses it may be necessary to track the careers of learners for several years after leaving the course.

Course objectives

An objective is a (relatively) shorter term goal which successful learners will achieve within the scope of the course itself. Objectives are often worded in course documentation in a way that explains to learners what they should try to achieve as they learn. Some educational organisations design objectives which carefully match the SMART criteria borrowed from the business world.

The use of objective as a noun and as an adjective is a source of potential confusion especially when the adjective objective is applied to assessment. The noun is used in the sense of goal while the adjective is used in the sense of independent of personal judgement. Thus objective assessment and assessment of objectives have entirely different meanings. Although the achievement of objectives is usually assessed this need not necessarily rely on objective assessment. Objectives can also be assessed via subjective assessment.

Timescales for objectives

Objectives are achieved while the course is in progress. Within a course, objectives may be spread out across sub-divisions of the course or may be assigned to the course as a whole. Generally a process of assessment is used to determine if learners have achieved objectives. That assessment may occur all at the end of the course or may occur at intervals during the course. When in-course assessment is used it occurs closer to the time when the learner should have met the objective.

Specificity of objectives

Objectives vary widely in their level of specificity but generally they are more specific than their related aims. Increased specificity may be required so that they are measurable and suitable assessments can be devised. Increased specificity often means that many objectives come under the umbrella of the same aim. Some organisations prefer large numbers of highly specific objectives such that each one can map onto a single question within an examination whereas others prefer small number of objectives where each one can map onto an aspect of the marking criteria for a single assessment such as a thesis. A short categorical list of objectives may be presented in course documentation but is also split into more specific objectives for the purposes of the design of assessment.

Structure of objectives

Sometimes the achievement of one objective is required as a prerequisite for the achievement of another objective. This may lead to quite complex structures of course objectives.

Selection of Objectives

In most courses objectives are set by teachers and apply to all learners who enrol on the course. Sometimes individual learners set their own objectives in collaboration with teachers. The objectives always relate to the same course aims but according to the individual's interpretation of those aims and how they relate to personal goals.

Learning outcomes

Since both aim and objective are in common language synonymous with goal they are both suggestive of a form of goal-oriented education. For this reason some educational organisations use the term learning outcome since this term is inclusive of education in which learners strive to achieve goals but extends further to include other forms of education. For example, in Learning through play children are not made aware of specific goals but planned, beneficial outcomes result from the activity nevertheless.

Therefore the term learning outcome is replacing objective in some educational organisations. In some organisations the term learning outcome is used in the part of a course description where aims are normally found.[8][9] One can equate aims to intended learning outcomes and objectives to measured learning outcomes. A third category of learning outcome is the unintended learning outcome which would include beneficial outcomes that were neither planned nor sought but are simply observed.

See also


  1. Compact Oxford English Dictionary
  2. University of Nottingham, Medical School, Learning Objectives
  3. Teaching Sociology, Vol. 8, No. 3, Why Formalize the Aims of Instruction?
  4. University of Chester Nutrition and Dietetics BSc Course Prospectus
  5. University of Oxford, BA in Human Sciences programme specification
  6. University of York, Department of Sociology
  7. Dublin City University, Data Network Protocol Analysis & Simulation, Module specification
  8. Developing Outcomes and Objectives, The Learning Management Corporation
  9. Outcomes Versus Objectives? What’s the Difference? Daniel Pittaway