Writing Quality Learning Objectives

What are Learning Objectives?
Successfully written learning objectives are observable, measurable, and clearly defined in the syllabus. Objectives should also be provided not only for the overall course (syllabus) but for each lesson, module, chapter, or section of the course in order to provide students with guided learning, motivation, and the basis for assessment throughout different sections of the course. Quality courses and learning objectives aim to foster a positive learning experience, where the objectives identify what the student will be able to do as a result of the course and its activities.

Learning objectives should:

  • State the audience that is being assessed.
  • Describe what the learner will be able to do from the course.
  • Describe exactly what the student should know or be able to accomplish after completing the course.
  • Form the basis for curriculum and course development, as well as testing and assessment.

Why are Learning Objectives Important?
The identification and articulation of learning goals and objectives provides the foundation for the instructional design, development, delivery, and assessment of an educational event. These defined goals serve as an implied contract between the instructor and student, defining what is to be taught and what is to be learned and so communicating these learning goals clearly is a crucial step in assuring an effective learning experience. The purpose of Learning Objectives is to identify the various observable behaviors students should achieve, and the learning activities they will carry out to accomplish the overall goals of the course. Learning objectives should be clearly stated and include a measurable behavior/performance, condition/given, and the criteria/standard upon which students will be assessed.

Because online courses do not have the benefit of in-class discussions, it is essential that the learning objectives provide information and guidance for students to be able to focus their learning and efforts. Although the planned learning goals do not need to be altered for delivery via distance education, new instructional design strategies may be needed to support the intended outcomes. The use of specific and measurable objectives, both guide designers during courseware development and aid students in the learning process. These instructional or "learning" objectives ensure that a course (online or face-to-face) applies knowledge and skills that provide practical experiences that meet the needs of learners, their future careers, and the program of study. The objectives also serve as a guide to determine if the course elements such as instruction, practice, and assessment are aligned.

Approaches to Writing Instructional Objectives

Instructional Objectives Should Include

  • Audience: who - the learner, the student, etc.
  • Behavior or Performance: specific verbs - write, locate, define, identify, repair, etc.
  • Conditions: given tool - calculator, toolbox, information, lecture, etc.
  • Success Criteria and Degree: quality - 100% accuracy, 80% of the time.

Quality Learning Objective - The Breakdown

When Writing Objectives, They Should be "SMART"

Categorizing Objectives

Types of Assessment and Objectives in eLearning

List of Verbs
The most important criteria for a valuable objective is a written indication of the desired behavior using measurable or observable verbs.  Verbs which are vague or obscure such as "understand", "know", "learn", "study", or "gain knowledge" should be replaced with more specific verbs. The list below provides some of the verbs appropriate for use with the statement "...students will be able to:"

  • list
  • identify
  • state
  • describe
  • define
  • solve
  • compare and contrast
  • operate

For a complete list of verbs that can be used to write effective learning objectives please click here.

For a list of verbs in each level of "Bloom's" Critical and Creative Thinking Skills please click here.

Book References
Robert F. Mager (1997). Preparing Objectives for Programmed Instruction: A Critical Tool in the Development of Effective Instruction, 3rd Ed. CEP Press.

Ruth Colvin Clark (2008). Developing Technical Training: A Structured Approach for Developing Classroom and Computer-based Instructional Materials, 3rd Ed. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Clark, R.C. (1999). Developing Technical Training (2nd ed.). Washington D. C. : International Society for Performance Improvement.

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