When faculty develop or modify a course, they do so with the program learning goals and objectives in mind.  At the course level, specific learning objectives are laid out for students to attain (hopefully) by the time they complete the course.

The course-level learning objectives should flow from the program-level learning goals and objectives, but they should also be more focused and specific than those goals and objectives. For example, the program may have a learning objective like “Students will be able to apply appropriate statistical tests to analyze data.”  The course or courses within the program where students learn about statistical tools and how to apply them would probably go into more detail in their objectives, for example: “After completing this course, students will understand the difference between parametric and non-parametric tests” or “After completing this course, students will be able to analyze data using the Chi-square test, ANOVA, …”. In terms of communiation goals, course-level objectives might be very specific, such as “Students in this course will write four research papers using the XXX style and format.”

As Mary J. Allen describes in her book “Assessing Academic Programs in Higher Education” (p. 44), course-level learning objectives “are not secrets.”  They need to be elaborated on course syllabi and those syllabi need to be made available to students prior to registering for the course, so that they can “make informed decisions before enrolling, [to enable students] to monitor and direct their own learning, and to [enable students to] communicate what they have learned to others, such as graduate schools, employers, or transfer institutions.”

Course-level learning objectives should be clearly articulated in the course syllabus.  In many cases this is already being done, but it is essential that ALL course syllabi now include specific statements of the course learning objectives. These statements should appear at or near the beginning of the syllabus.  While some faculty use a paragraph or narrative format, a bulleted list is ideal in that it makes these objectives very clear and distinct to anyone reading the syllabus.  Such a list will also facilitate curriculum mapping and alignment analysis efforts, and the subsequent implementation of specific learning objective assessment plans at the course and program level.

Works Cited:
Allen, Mary J. Assessing Academic Programs in Higher Education. Boston: Anker Publishing Company, 2004. Print