Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Goals, Objectives, and Outcomes
Overall, we at the Eberly Center hesitate to offer determinate definitions of goals, outcomes, and objectives because colleges, programs, and discipline-specific accreditation agencies (e.g., ABET, the agency that accredits engineering and computer science programs) often have definitions distinctive to their needs.

Below we offer guidance that may help support assessment processes in your program or college, especially in the context of how these terms are typically used within CMU's courses and programs.

Goals are usually considered to be broad statements about what a university, college, program, or instructor would like students to achieve (typically over a lengthier span of time). These are often found in strategic plans or in course descriptions within university catalogs, handbooks, or websites.
  • CMU 2025 Strategic Plan.  Give students the knowledge and skills that are increasingly important in today’s interconnected world, including interpersonal, professional, and visual communications skills; collaboration and teamwork, especially with diverse others; empathy and concern for the welfare of others; and organizational and leadership skills.[1]
  • CMU Department of Physics website
    • Our goals for physics majors are: 
      • To satisfy our physics majors' basic curiosity about the nature of the universe, to inspire them to investigate and learn, and to encourage and expand their drive to understand the physics that governs nature and technology;
      • To instill in them the knowledge and skills that constitute a physicists unique approach to solving the diverse problems they will encounter in their academic and non-academic careers.[2]
  • CMU Department of Physics course:  The main goal of this course is to have you engage in a process central to science:  the attempt to model a broad range of physical phenomena using a small set of powerful fundamental principles.[3]
[1] Retrieved from
[2] Retrieved from
[3] Meyer, C.A. (2012).  Matter and interactions I.  [syllabus].  Retrieved from
Program outcomes are statements of what faculty expect graduates should be able to do after completing their programs of study.[4] Like learning objectives (see below), these statements should be written in specificdemonstrable (measurable), and student-centered terms.
For instance, a CMU Department of Physics[5] learning outcome states that graduates should be able to solve complex and diverse problems by:
  • Recognizing universal physical laws relevant to the problem,
  • Applying the relevant laws to the problem,
  • Applying mathematical and computational techniques,using experimental, computational, and/or theoretical methods, and 
  • Evaluating the limitations of their solutions.
The Mellon College of Science recently revised their college-level program outcomes:
Upon graduation, MCS students should be able to…
  • Communicate effectively via oral, visual, and written formats…
  • Participate effectively in multidisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary teams…
  • Use the appropriate tools and required media literacy to acquire, assess, and analyze data and information from diverse sources.
Sample program outcomes are available.

 Note that there are other definitions/interpretations of "outcomes" in use.
The definition and examples presented for "program outcome" here are most
consistent with usage among CMU programs engaged in program review, curriculum
mapping, and assessment.
[5] Retrieved from
Learning objectives are typically course-level statements describing what the students should be able to do (or demonstrate) by the end of the course. These statements describe student performance in a specificdemonstrable (measurable), and student-centered way.
Example: Students should be able to apply basic principles of energy, momentum and angular momentum conservation to solve real-world problems on the microscopic, macroscopic and astrophysical size scales.[6]
[6] Retrieved from