Assessment and Outcomes

back to Introduction

Program Objectives: Identifying Intended Learning Outcomes

Program objectives are brief, clear, focused statements of specific intended learning outcomes. Each objective can be linked directly to one or more program goals. Each objective should be defined with outcomes assessment criteria in mind for "measuring" how well each objective has been accomplished. Operationally, it is very helpful to formulate each objective statement to include.

Stating each objective in the form of an "action verb" combined with a description of a very specific ability helps translate objectives into learning outcomes students can actually demonstrate and faculty can actually measure. The use of the verb form emphasizes that objectives can be assessed by examining very specific products or behaviors students can actually do. By implication, each objective must have associated criteria for evaluating the success of the program in terms of the actual accomplishments of its graduates. For example, here are some sample learning objectives from the Human Services program:

  • Examine the history and philosophies of human services
  • Identify what constitutes genuine and empathic relationship
  • Analyze the role of conflict in individual and societal systems
  • Demonstrate a broad range of relevant communication skills & strategies
  • Design integrated services using innovative practices in diverse settings

Two kinds of learning objectives: mastery and development
There are two general categories of learning objectives. Mastery objectives establish minimum criteria for the acquisition and demonstration of foundational skills or knowledge. Mastery implies the achievement of a minimal or threshold level of competence, and also implies that what is important is the attainment of a minimum or threshold level of competence. Mastery objectives are measured on a binary scale: pass/fail, satisfactory/unsatisfactory, etc.

In contrast, developmental objectives imply a sequential continuum of integrative abilities. In general these include two distinct categories of abilities to be assessed as student learning objectives: general, across-the-curriculum abilities, and abilities specific to the major. Developmental objectives form a hierarchy of sequential skill levels which become the basis for particular course sequences within a program.

Because developmental objectives are best represented as a sequence of checkpoints for student learning, it is important and useful for departments to establish criteria for defining and assessing several different levels of developmental abilities, and to associate the attainment of sequential levels of such abilities with specific courses or groups of courses in their programs. In this way program objectives can be integrated meaningfully into individual courses, and learning objectives for one course become prerequisite knowledge for more advanced courses.

For example, a sequence of developmental objectives might include:

  • Demonstrate observational skills
  • Draw reasonable inferences from observations
  • Demonstrate perception of important relationships in observations
  • Analyze structure and organization
  • Select and apply appropriate theoretical constructs to observations

Both mastery and developmental objectives can be associated with a wide variety of competencies:

  • Knowledge
  • Cognitive development--area and level
  • Technical skill development--skill and level
  • Process skill development--skill and level
  • Comprehension--type and level
  • Application
  • Analysis
  • Synthesis
  • Evaluation
  • Integrative thinking/ creativity
  • Attitudes, behaviors, and values
  • Development of desirable personal/professional qualities