Heather Russino By Heather Russino • November 28, 2023

Syllabus 101: Why You Need to Pay Attention to the Course Objectives

When you begin a new course as a student, one of the first things you review is the course syllabus. You want to know right from the start what the expectations are: How many written assignments are slated in the course? Are there any exams? Is there a final project? Any new technology integrated into the course or new platforms to learn? While most students immediately review the required assignments within the course, they seem to gloss over another important element - the course objectives.

Why are Course Objectives Necessary?

Course objectives are an integral part of the course, especially from a design and learning standpoint. Course objectives provide the course with a permanent structure to which the rest of the course is built. In essence, they serve as a solid foundation for teaching and learning. Course objectives are meant to establish several main purposes for learning:

  • Define exactly what students should be able to do by the end of the course or instruction
  • Identify a particular set of skills or knowledge a student should attain
  • Serve as the framework for selected course materials and methods of instruction

Before instructional content, teaching methods, or learning activities can be created for a particular course, objectives need to be developed. These objectives must be measurable – this means they need to be designed so any activity aligned to an objective can assess whether or not a specific objective was met by the student through performance. By reviewing and understanding the course objectives, you are setting yourself up for success.

So Why Should You Take the Time to Read, Interpret and Internalize Course Objectives (Located in the Syllabus) at the Beginning of Every Course? It Comes Down to Five Main Reasons

  1. You are more cognizant of the selected learning materials and instructional approach to the course when you understand course expectations from the beginning.
  2. You make more connections with the content as you move through the course when you know the sequence of how and why the course was designed.
  3. The course material will resonate with you more when you are fully aware of the course objectives targeting specific skills, concepts, or knowledge.
  4. As you are taking the course, you are more likely to ask questions if something doesn’t make sense, especially content directly relating to a particular course objective.
  5. You are mindful of your own abilities when completing assignments; you are more apt to assess your own work in the course, checking to see firsthand if your performance is meeting those course objectives.

Before you dive right into the Introductions Forum and introduce yourself to meet your mentor and fellow classmates, do yourself a favor and take a close look at the course objectives listed in the syllabus. What will you learn in this course? What knowledge or skills will be assessed and achieved? How are the objectives measured in the course and what are you hoping to gain? Can you follow the alignment of the activities as they correlate to the objectives?

As you review the activities aligned with the course objectives, be sure to reference a rubric to understand exactly how your work will be graded for an assignment. By doing this, it will help you to perform at your best and set yourself up for a successful semester!

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in 2015 and has been updated for accuracy.

Heather Russino

Written by Heather Russino

Heather Russino is an instructional designer in The W. J. Seaton Center for Learning and Technology, an innovative and trailblazing learning environment center that serves self-directed students through the use of current and emerging technology and outcomes-driven curriculum design. A Columbia University graduate and educator for over 20 years, Russino enjoys writing about her areas of expertise in teaching, learning and course design.

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