The Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning

Establishing Learning Goals

Learning goals are the intended purposes and desired achievements of a particular course, which generally identify the knowledge, skills, and capacities a student in that class should achieve.

Why set learning goals?

  • In a synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses about teaching and learning, educational researcher John Hattie (2011, p. 130) concludes that "having clear intentions and success criteria (goals)" is one of the key strategies that "works best" in improving student achievement in higher education.
  • Being transparent about how and why students are learning in particular ways has been found to increase students' confidence, sense of belonging, and retention -- with key benefits for first-generation, low-income and underrepresented students (Winkelmes, Bernacki, Butler, Zochowski, Golanics and Weavil, 2016).

What are examples of learning goals?

Three widely-used frameworks for learning goals include Bloom's Taxonomy, Fink's Taxonomy of Learning Experiences, and the Lumina Foundation's Degree Qualifications Profile.

  • Bloom's Taxonomy sequences thinking skills from lower-order (e.g., remembering) to higher-order (e.g., evaluating, creating). (Bloom's Taxonomy was developed in 1956 and Anderson and Krathwohl created a revised taxonomy in 2001). This visual from Iowa State University's Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching offers an example of learning goals keyed to Bloom levels.
  • Dee Fink (2003) argues that faculty can create significant learning experiences when they address their students’ intellectual development holistically. Fink's Taxonomy of Significant Learning distinguishes six kinds of learning: 1) foundational knowledge, 2) application, 3) integration, 4) human dimensions (i.e. knowledge of self and others), 5) caring (i.e. appreciating or valuing the subject matter), and 6) learning how to learn. Section 5 of the US Air Force Academy’s “A Primer on Writing Effective Learner-Centered Course Goals” describes the taxonomy in more detail and provides verb stems and sample goals keyed to these six types of learning.
  • The Lumina Foundations's Degree Qualifications Profile identifies specific learning outcomes for bachelor's and master's students in five categories: specialized knowledge, broad and integrative knowledge, intellectual skills, applied and collaborative learning, and civic and global learning. The process of "tuning" means adopting these broad outcomes to specific disciplines.

What are examples of learning goals at Brown?

What self-directed resources can identify goals for my students' learning?

  • Articulate Your Learning Objectives offers key steps (Carnegie Mellon University's Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation).
  • Angelo and Cross's (1993) Teaching Goals Inventory offers a 53-item self-assessment to make explicit your implicit goals for student learning.


Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R., et al. (Eds.) (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Bloom, B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook 1: Cognitive domain. New York: David McKay Co. Inc.

Fink, D. L. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Hattie, J. (2011). Which strategies best enhance teaching and learning in higher education? In D. Mashek and E. Y. Hammer, Eds. Empirical research in teaching and learning: Contributions from social psychology (pp. 130-142). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Winkelmes, M., Bernacki, M., Butler, J., Zochowski, M., Golanics, J., & Weavil, K.H. (2016). Teaching intervention that increases underserved college students' success. AAC&U Peer Review, 16(1/2). h