The terms goal and objective are often used interchangeably in many parts of modern life, including education. However, there is a definite difference between these two terms that everyone in the education system, from students up to principals, should be aware of so that they can understand how best to fulfill both terms.


A goal is a long-term, and often fairly vague, idea. For instance, a goal might be for a student to "improve performance." However, there's no parameters set for how that could be done, or at what level it's set at. Another example of a goal might be to instill good morals and respect into children who graduate. But since this is a variable idea, it's viewed as a goal.


An objective, on the other hand, is a very direct thing that can be achieved, and which can be measured. An objective might be to memorize the periodic table of elements by the exam next week. This gives you a definite time frame and a specific thing that has to be accomplished, and it gives you a fairly simple idea of how it has to be done. Objectives tend to have very measurable results, and they aren't meant to last for the long term.

Objectives Lead to Goals

A goal should, ideally, be made up of many short-term objectives. For instance, if you want to better your education and improve your learning, you could start by setting yourself short-term test and quiz objectives. As you achieve those, you can achieve larger objectives, such as scoring higher in a class and getting a better grade. Over time all of these little things will lead to your bigger, more nebulous goal.

Know the Difference

It's important that when you use terminology you are as specific as you can so there's no confusion in your communication. However, if you don't know the difference between a goal and an objective it can seriously hamper your ability to plan. Both an inability to see the long-term goal and an inability to plan short-term objectives to achieve that long-term goal can be a problem for those trying to plan their educational needs.