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How to Develop a Clear Goal Statements for Your Course

by Mark Ferrer

Course goals set out the benefits students will derive as a result of the course.

Writing a clear course goal

Work on your goals here

1. Find the answer to the question, “What personal benefits have former students in this course derived?” Sources for this information are direct (former students who’ve completed the course) and indirect (colleagues, Dept. Chair or Dean, Institutional Effectiveness Office). Obvious answers are:

  • this is a required course, so students’ benefit = advancing in their degree program
  • this course will provide them with tools needed to succeed in their chosen fields

Less obvious answers might be:

  • my best friend is taking this course, and I want to hang with him
  • my parents want me to be a doctor, so I have to take this course

Here, the concept of student motivation is important because students who recognize personal benefits are generally more motivated as learners. See the discussion at http://www.wpi.edu/~isg_501/motivation.html concerning Maslow’s hierarchy for some ideas about identifying potential personal benefits your students might derive from your course.

The above comments refer only to categories of student benefits. The “provide them with tools needed to succeed” category might include these two benefits for a course in oral communication: 

  • provide you with experience in developing and presenting an effective oral presentation

  • prepare you to participate in and direct effective meetings

Additional phrases to guide you as you craft your course goal statements are:

  • assist you in . . .
  • familiarize you with . . .
  • provide you with a better understanding of . . .
  • help ensure your success as you . . .
  • give you experience in . . .
  • develop your ability to . . .

If you use student comments in this list, the importance of having these statements be in the students’ own words can't be overemphasized. Even attributing names (“John S., sophomore English major”) to individual benefits is a good idea because, for this purpose, use of student-produced information is a more learning-centered approach than use of teacher-produced information.

Students’ personal benefits (some examples include):

  • Develop confidence
  • Prepare me for the next course
  • Develop my ability to argue effectively
  • Develop ability to work in teams
  • Adapt to a fast-paced environment
  • Develop specific skills (identify them; e.g., for video production students: good lighting techniques in outdoor shooting)


  • Ask former students
  • Talk w/colleagues
  • Check other syllabi 

2. Cull the list so that only the most generally applicable benefits are included.

Culled List

3. Include the list as part of your syllabus and preface it with a statement that engages students’ interest in reading the list. Here’s a start: “You may wonder, as other students have, how you will benefit from taking this scourse. That’s a good question, and there are some good answers. . . .”

Click here for examples from several syllabi showing the course goals section.

Your prefacing statement for your course goals list:


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