Educational aims and objectives

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The Compact Oxford English Dictionary and others interchangeably define the noun "objective" as, Objective: noun 1 a goal or aim.[1] Although the noun forms of the three words aim, objective and goal are often used synonymously, professionals in organised education define the words aim and objective more narrowly and consider them to be distinct from each other.

Aims are concerned with purpose whereas objectives are concerned with achievement.

Usually an educational objective relates to gaining an ability, a skill, some knowledge, a new attitude etc. rather than having merely completed a given task. Since the achievement of objectives usually takes place during the course and the aims look forward into the student's career and life beyond the course one can expect the aims of a course to be relatively more long term than the objectives of that same course. [2][3]

Course aims[edit]

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[edit]

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 fulfillment 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 circumstance.

Specificity of Aims[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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 judgment. 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[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

In most courses objectives are set by teachers and apply to all learners who enroll 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.

Armstrong (2012) argues that teachers should provide assistance in formulating objectives. Objectives change over time. Education should be tailored to meet new objectives so that students can learn the most recent knowledge. [8]

Educational Aims and Objectives Vs. Business Aims and Objectives[edit]

Since there is some overlap in terminology between the fields of education and business some clash of cultures can occur which causes confusion. Here is a comparison between business and educational aims and objectives. Note that business objectives tend to refer to the completion of tasks by the organisation whereas educational objectives more often refer to the acquisition of skills, knowledge, attitudes etc. by each learner.

Business Example[edit]

At present the staff who maintain the gardens around the head office move through the reception area to fetch and store gardening tools. We aim to acquire and install a shed on site by springtime next year for gardening equipment.

Objective one: agree on specific prefab product by start of November. Objective two: order by end November. Objective three: install and transfer the tools and materials into it before Xmas. umair jutt

Education Example[edit]

Our course aims to provide retired men and women with the skills and knowledge they will need to select and build a small garden shed at home. Objective one: participants will learn how to use tools and materials safely Objective two: participants will learn how to match their needs against the available products Objective three: participants will learn how to prepare for construction - unpacking materials, laying out tools etc. Objective four: participants will acquire a range of construction skills including nailing boards into place, using wood screws and how to lay concrete foundations.

Learning outcomes[edit]

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.[9][10] 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[edit]


  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. ^ J. Scott Armstrong (2012). "Natural Learning in Higher Education". Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. 
  9. ^ Developing Outcomes and Objectives, The Learning Management Corporation
  10. ^ Outcomes Versus Objectives? What’s the Difference? Daniel Pittaway