Writing Aims and Objectives  


The conceptualising and writing of aims and objectives are critical to effective curriculum design and student learning. Well written aims and objectives serve three related purposes. Firstly, at the student level they indicate the content (knowledge, skills and attitudes) that will be covered and the level of cognitive engagement that students will need to demonstrate in order to be successful. At the program level they allow the program team to ensure that program level objectives are systematically and incrementally developed. Lastly, at the course level, well written aims and objectives are the first step to designing a course so that the aims and objectives are appropriately aligned with assessment and the learning environment.

The University's documentation for this alignment is The Course Statement, Template 7 of the Coursework Program Approval Manual. This manual has some useful strategies for thinking about and writing aims and objectives. For an objective to be claimed it must be explicitly assessed and linked to one or more of the seven University graduate qualities. The alignment of objective, assessment and graduate quality is an intellectual exercise and is often done collaboratively between the Program Director, Course Coordinator and your Division's Academic Developer.  

Writing course aims

The aims of a course are broad statements of its purpose or intent. The aims encompass the purpose and philosophy of the course, specifying its overall direction and content. They let students know what you will be teaching them over a study period and what they may learn by taking the course. Course aims are typically identified in relation to the broad program aims as well as their relationship to the aims of other courses within the program. To write this component of the document you will need to understand the role played by your course in the overall development of graduate qualities across the program. It should be no more than two brief sentences.

Writing course objectives

The course statement (template 7) requires a course to have no more than seven objectives. The respective point value of the course is not considered.

The purpose of learning objectives is to be explicit about what it is we want the students to do, and what we need them to learn in order for the aim to be achieved. Learning objectives may be written with respect to knowledge, skills and attitudes. For an objective to be claimed it must be assessed therefore there must be an alignment between objectives and assessments. Typically it is easier to assess knowledge and skills than attitudes.

Typically there are three parts to an objective:

  1. Starts with a stem 
    A typical stem would look something like "On completion of this course students will be able to..."
  2. Next there is a performance verb 
    The performance verb indicates the standard that the student is required to demonstrate. A number of tools such as Bloom's cognitive and affective taxonomies and Biggs SOLO taxonomy can be used to help you do this. The performance verb should not be placed in the stem of the objective.
  3. Lastly, there is the object to which the verb relates, for example: 
    On completion of this course students should be able to:
    - (apply) appropriate management techniques and skills to the research degree process and explain why these are appropriate within specific contexts    

What is the difference between aims and objectives?

It is relatively common for people to have some difficulty differentiating aims and objectives when designing a course. The principal difference between aims and objectives is that aims represent the broad goal of your course while the objectives are the steps the students need to take in order to get there.

Despite this core difference they are both written using the same sentence structure and should be written using active voice and from the perspective of student achievement. The use of active voice is important because it highlights the role and responsibility that students have to their own learning.

Important things to consider

  • What year level is the course? Learning taxonomies such as Bloom's cognitive taxonomy and Bigg's SOLO mentioned above, classify learning objectives into a vertical range. Lower level objectives might be appropriate in the early years of a program but certainly not in the later years.
  • What knowledge, skills and attitudes will your students come in with?
  • What types of learning does your profession require?
  • What courses and what learning will the students be doing simultaneously and subsequently?
  • How will you assess the objective? You cannot claim an objective you have not assessed. It must be observable and measurable in some way.
  • Higher level objectives tend to mean that deeper learning is more likely but foundational learning may have to occur first.
  • Skills like problem solving and team work have to be taught before they can be used.  

Relationship to the program and graduate qualities

Graduate qualities can be thought of as a type of generic objective. That is, these are objectives that need to be built into each student's learning irrespective of program. Each course within a program contributes to the overall development of graduate qualities. They serve as building blocks, with each course contributing at least one component of the overall graduate quality profile. Within this broad scheme, some courses focus intently on developing one graduate quality, while others may develop more than one.

All courses will develop Graduate quality 1 - the body of knowledge - but may have another focus for student development. Typically a single course should develop no more than three Graduate Qualities in addition to Graduate Quality 1. Further, course objectives need to be written in relation to that graduate quality. See selecting assessment to support development of Graduate Qualities. A graduate quality needs to be assessed and substantially developed in order to be claimed.

Graduate qualities and the tasks which assess achievement of those qualities also need to be developed as students progress through a program. The location of any course within the overall degree structure may affect the particular emphasis it places on developing graduate qualities and consequently the kinds of assessment tasks associated with it.  

Example: A fictional 2nd level course Leadership in Stationery Supply has a body of knowledge concerned with staff management principles in the Office Supply industry.

Its assessment tasks are:

  • individual presentation
  • group presentation
  • individual reflective journal on group presentation process

This course carries a large burden for developing graduate quality 4 - working autonomously and collaboratively - within the Office Supply Management 3 year undergraduate degree program. This focus can be evidenced in assignments that involve group work and which assess the students' understanding of the body of knowledge regarding staff management techniques and theories.

This does not mean that no other course in the program develops this quality nor that this course only assesses and develops graduate quality 4. For instance there is also a focus on oral presentation and communication skills (graduate quality 6) in the assessment tasks. However within the Office Supply Management program, the Leadership in Stationery Supply course is a key site for the development of graduate quality 4. It has a primary role in its development throughout the three year degree and its objectives demonstrate this emphasis.

Its course objectives may be written this way: 
(NB: performance verbs are written in bold)

On completion of this course, a student should be able to: (Stem) 
(verbs in bold)

  • demonstrate an understanding of staff management techniques utilised within the Office Supply industry by applying concepts to explain examples.
  • demonstrate an understanding of international best practice by contrasting and evaluating different models of leadership.
  • demonstrate the practical application of these concepts in group work assignments.
  • identify and critique management approaches in the field and be able to collaboratively
  • develop alternative models of practice. A student will be able to work effectively in a team environment to solve problems of management practice.    

Further assistance

Further assistance with learning objectives is available from your: