What are Course Objectives?
And more importantly, how are they different from Learning Outcomes? Course objectives are broader goals that can be applied to each level of a multi-level course. For example, a course objective in an English for Academic Purposes (EAP) course may look like this:
Understand and identify the main ideas in an academic text (written or spoken)
This may relate to more than one learning outcome at each level
INT.R1 - Can generally identify the main ideas in academic texts on familiar and some unfamiliar topics
UI.R1 - Can identify the main ideas in academic texts on familiar and some unfamiliar topics with rare misunderstandings
ADV.R1 - Can identify the main ideas in academic texts on a broad range of unfamiliar topics with rare misunderstandings
INT.L1 - Can generally identify the main ideas in lectures on familiar and some unfamiliar topics
UI.L1 - Can identify the main ideas in lectures on familiar and some unfamiliar topics with rare misunderstandings
ADV.L1 - Can identify the main ideas in lectures on a broad range of unfamiliar topics with rare misunderstandings
We can see that these six discrete learning outcomes share a common course objective. Each of them are adjusted to relate to a specific level (intermediate, upper intermediate or advanced) and a macro skill (reading or listening).
How many layers of learning goals are appropriate?
It is possible to have multiple layers of specificity and detail in course objectives and learning outcomes. However, it is recommended that there are only two layers as outlined above.
Each course has a title - which is shorthand for it’s all-consuming goal. These can be expressed as the Course Goal.
General English: Can use English effectively in everyday contexts
English for Academic Purposes: Can use English effectively in academic contexts
IELTS Preparation: Can pass the IELTS exam
A course has this top layer, with a single Course Goal as implicit. Beneath that are Course Objectives of which four to seven are appropriate. And then there are the learning outcomes, of which there may be between 15 and 30 per level.
The Relationship between Course Objectives and Learning Outcomes
Graves (2000) recommends that there are two main ways of interpreting the relationship between the more general Course Objectives and the more specific Learning Outcomes.
Method 1: Each Course Objective has it’s own group of learning outcomes that relate to it.
This would make most sense where each Course Objective relates to a macro skill or another skill.
Can use a variety of techniques to listen a range of oral texts
L.1 Can listen for the main ideas (gist) and keywords on a range of familiar topics
L.2 Can listen for detailed meaning on a range of familiar topics
L.3 Can recognise and follow speakers’ basic attitudes, purposes and some inferences
L.4 Can use a range of basic listening strategies to answer questions
(Similar groupings of Learning Outcomes would need to be added for each level)
If there are, for example, three levels in a course, then there would be a total of twelve learning outcomes associated with that Course Objective.
Method 2: Course Objectives can relate to a wide range of Learning Outcomes.
This method is useful when integrating non-macro skills such as grammar, vocabulary and test-taking skills into the macro skills.
Can use grammar and vocabulary accurately and appropriately
S3: Can use a wide range of vocabulary accurately appropriately in an extended presentation
S4: Can use a wide range of vocabulary accurately appropriately in an extended presentation
W3: Can use a wide range of vocabulary accurately appropriately in an extended report/essay
W4: Can use a wide range of vocabulary accurately appropriately in an extended report/essay
Both approaches are appropriate, it is up to the course designer to decide which path to take. Either way, the total number of Learning Outcomes should be wide enough to cover all of the core aspects of a student’s proficiency development, but small enough to be easily understood and internalised by teachers and students alike.
Graves, K. 2000. Designing Language Courses: A guide for teachers. Newbury House Teacher Development.
For more information about learning outcomes and how to apply them to English language courses (ELICOS), please email firstname.lastname@example.org