Analytic Quality Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2004-21, Analytic Quality Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 18 June, 2021 , © Lee Harvey 2004–2021.


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core definition

An objective is:

(a) a specific statement about what students are expected to learn or to be able to do as a result of studying a programme: more specifically this is a learning objective;

(b) a measurable operationalisation of a policy, strategy or mission: this is an implementation objective.

explanatory context

A programme will have several objectives, which are detailed breakdowns of broad aims. They are sometime referred to as ‘objectives’, ‘outcomes’ ‘learning objectives’ or ‘learning outcomes’.


Institutional mission statements and policy statements or strategies may also operationalise aims in the form of measurable objectives.

analytical review

For Charles Sturt University (2004)

Learning objectives define what students are expected to learn in more specific and concrete statements. These statements indicate what learners should be able to do or understand as a result of having worked through the material.


The University of Nottingham Medical School (undated) states:

Learning Objectives are statements that describe what a learner will be able to do as a result of learning. They are sometimes called learning outcomes. Learning Objectives are also statements that describe what a learner will be able to do as a result of teaching. Some definitions stress that a learning objective is a sort of contract that teachers make with learners that describes what they will be able to do after learning that they could not do before, the ‘added value’ of teaching. However the connection between teaching and learning is not a simple one. Just because knowledge or skills are taught does not mean that particular knowledge or skills are learned. Many factors can interfere with the achievement of objectives: the existing knowledge of the learner, the relevance or usefulness of the material presented, the skills of the teacher.


Staffordshire University (undated) provides a generic definition:

An objective is a description of an intended outcome, written in specific terms. It describes:

·        What you will do.

·        By when.

·        Using what (resources, equipment, facilities).

·        To what standard.


SHEFC (1997) provides an example of the translation of policy into objectives:

Objective One: The maintenance and development of a system for the funding of teaching which is transparent, which promotes the appropriate balance of competition and co-operation between institutions and which is consistent with the priorities and policies of the Council.


Mueller (2011) defines objective as:

Objective: Much like a goal or standard, an objective is a statement of what students should know and be able to do. Typically, an objective is the most narrow of these statements, usually describing what a student should know or be able to do at the end of a specific lesson plan. Like a standard, an objective is amenable to assessment, that is, it is observable and measurable.

The Ontario Council of Academic Vice Presidents (OCAV, 2006, p. 4) contrasts objectives, which are intended, with outcomes, which are achieved:

Learning objectives are an expression of what the instructor(s) intends that the student should have learned or achieved by the end of the program or course.

associated issues

The term ‘objectives’ is sometimes used interchangeably with ‘outcomes’ for example:

Since an aim is a broad statement it is not possible to use it to test out whether learning has been successful. It doesn’t give you much help in determining what you need to do to achieve it.  Therefore much more precise statements of intent are necessary for this purpose. These are objectives or learning outcomes (as they are more commonly called in unit specifications in the University of Portsmouth).

(University of Portsmouth, undated)


However, others make a clear distinction.


The difference between aims and objectives?


Objectives are also often confused with aims. The University of Nottingham Medical School (undated) notes:

Aims are general statements concerning the overall goals, ends or intentions of teaching. Objectives are the individual stages that learners must achieve on the way in order to reach these goals. For example a teacher might have an aim that a student should be able to take blood pressure using a sphygmomanometer. However to achieve this aim a series of objectives must be met. E.g. to explain procedure to patient, to position cuff correctly, to inflate to correct pressure etc.

related areas

See also



learning outcomes


Charles Sturt University, 2004, ‘Learning aims and objectives’, (page undated but site home page dated 2004), not available 22 January 2012.

Mueller, J., 2011, Authentic Assessment Toolbox; Glossary at, accessed 5 September 2012, still available 27 June 2019 (page ©2018).

Ontario Council of Academic Vice Presidents (OCAV), 2006,UPRAC Review and Audit Guidelines, 12 October 2006.

Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, 1997, SHEFC Corporate Plan 1997–2000: The Forward Plan, not available 22 January 2012,

Staffordshire University (undated) ‘Aims and objectives tutorial' Page no longer available, 31 January 2011.

University of Nottingham (undated), Learning Objectives, accessed 5 September 2012, page not available at this address 4 January 2017.

University of Portsmouth (undated), Aims and objectives explained - getting the best out of units,3626,en.pdf. Page no longer available, 31 January 2011.

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2021

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