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Indiana University Bloomington

Instructional Consulting

Adding Course Goals to Your Syllabus

Syllabus Shirt

For some instructors, clearly articulated learning outcomes that suggest measurement and indicate what students should be able to do by the end of the course sufficiently describe the intellectual work of the course.  For others, learning outcomes alone are too granular and/or too focused on student work to encompass the thrust of the course at the conceptual level.  When the latter is the case, instructors may wish to include both course learning goals and specific learning outcomes in their syllabi.

Like program learning goals, course learning goals should be broad and conceptual in scope, supported by one or more learning outcomes.  As an example, consider the following excerpt from a syllabus for a seminar about consumerism:

L416. Perspectives on American Consumerism

Course Goals

There are three course goals for this seminar, which I enumerate below.  Under each goal are the specific learning outcomes that relate to it.  By the end of the course, you should be able to perform each learning outcome, which will be a sign that you have achieved the broader learning goal to which it belongs.

  1. Students who complete the course should emerge as competent and professional seminar participants.   By the end of the course, you should be able to:


    • demonstrate that you have prepared for a lively seminar discussion by reading carefully, responding in writing, and applying what you read to new contexts.
    • identify a topic of interest, research it for a sustained period, and share the fruits of your research with others in a professional presentation.
    • produce a professionally-finished research essay with an original insight.

  2. Students who complete the course should emerge as more reflective and thoughtful consumers.   By the end of the course, you should be able to:

    • articulate specific changes in your thinking about consumerism.
    • articulate what changes, if any, you will make to your lifestyle as a result of having taken this course.
    • write essays for class that require analysis and careful,considered thinking about various topics pertaining to consumerism.

  3. Students who complete the course should emerge as better writers.  By the end of the course, you should be able to:


    • fashion an argumentative thesis based on an original idea.
    • structure solid paragraphs, i.e. beginning paragraphs with topic sentences, focusing on one major topic, and using transitions to help the reader connect the writer's thoughts.
    • use evidence effectively to support your ideas
    • recognize and meet the expectations for professionally-finished academic papers.
In the example above, notice how the three learning goals for the course represent broad, conceptual ideas for the course.  In many cases – and certainly in the example above – course learning goals will be difficult, if not impossible to measure, and appear as rather “squishy” concepts.  Learning outcomes, on the other hand, more concrete and specific; they framed in terms of what students should be able to do.  As such, all learning outcomes point pretty clearly to assessment:  in the above example, for instance, it is simply a matter of measuring how well students can do the activities laid out in the learning outcomes.