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.

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.

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.[4][5] 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.

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