Editor’s Toolkit: Goals, Objectives, and Outcomes

What Is the Difference between a Goal, an Objective, and an Outcome?

There is a lot of discussion and disagreement in the academic and educational worlds about the differences between a goal, an objective, and an outcome.* The terms are sometimes used interchangeably. At other times only one is used and it covers multiple things. The most important thing to remember is that all three terms refer to what students learn and what they are able to do with what they learn. I find it easiest to think of them like this:

  • Goal: A general, over-arching area of knowledge students master over time
  • Objective: A specific, clearly defined content area or skill students learn through a specific lesson, unit, or chapter
  • Outcome: A specific, clearly defined thing students will be able to do once they successfully reach their objective

* Sometimes the term learning target is also thrown into the mix—just to keep everyone on their toes.


The simple example below shows how these three terms can be used together.


By the end of 4th grade, students will master multiplication up to three digits.

Learning Objectives

In this unit students will:

  • use manipulatives to learn basic multiplication skills for the benchmark numbers 1, 2, and 5
  • practice mental math to “visualize” the products of basic multiplication problems for benchmark numbers
  • become familiar with the ways multiplication problems are presented (2 x 2, 2(2), etc.)
  • practice solving basic multiplication problems on a worksheet

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this unit students will be able to:

  • successfully complete a basic multiplication worksheet for multiples of 1, 2, and 5
  • take a timed test and complete twenty problems in one minute