Section 5.1: Learning Objectives

Objectives should be measurable, use action verbs, break down the task and focus on cognitive processes (Reiser & Dempsey, 2007, p. 75).  “Good objectives are mission-critical, sin qua non, must-have, make-or-break requirement for effective e-learning” (Horton, p. 12). From objectives, the appropriate instructional strategies can be chosen and assessments/tests designed.

Good objectives must be (Carnegie Mellon, “Articulate Your Objectives,” para. 6-10; Horton, 2006, pp. 13-14):

  1. Clear. Articulate the knowledge and skills you want students to acquire by the end of the course
  2. Student-centered and Worthy. Describe objectives in terms of what we want the students to be able to do at the end of the course. It is very helpful to articulate learning objectives by completing this prompt: “At the end of the course, students should be able to _____.” Objectives must contribute to accomplishing the overall goal.
  3. Use Action Verbs. Focusing on concrete actions and behaviors allows the instructor to make student learning explicit, and communicates to students the kind of intellectual effort expected.
    1. “State theorems” (implies memorization and recall)
    2. “Prove theorems” (implies applying knowledge)
    3. “Apply theorems to solve problems“ (involves applying knowledge)
    4. “Decide when a given theorem applies” (involves meta-cognitive decision-making skills)
  4. Measurable and Precise. Because learning objectives should guide the selection of assessments, they cannot be vague. “Say NO to KNOW objectives.” Some learning objectives that are typically vague but are often used include:
    1.  “Understand X,”
    2. “Obtain a working knowledge of X”
    3. “Gain an appreciation for X”

These objectives can be clarified by asking ourselves: "What would students do differently if they really 'understand' or 'appreciate' X?"

Bloom’s Taxonomy
In 1956, Benjamin Bloom and his colleagues published Taxonomy of Education Objectives which categorized educational objectives on a continuum and are expressed in terms of student-centered actions (Reiser & Dempsey, 2007). Six types of performance objectives are distinguished: 1) knowledge; 2) comprehension; 3) application; 4) analysis; 5) synthesis; and 6) evaluation (p. 75).

Many educators still find Bloom’s work, especially in the cognitive domain, relevant and valuable in that it describes actions, level of knowledge, and intellectual engagement expected from the student. Resources for designing objectives using Bloom’s Taxonomy are provided below:

Resources for Designing Objectives Using Bloom’s Taxonomy

  1. The following is a blank table with the categories for Bloom’s taxonomy to define your educational objectives for a course: http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/resources/Teaching/CourseDesign/TeacherAssessment/taxonomyTable.pdf
  2. The following chart contains examples of cognitive activities, expressed as verbs (e.g., list, classify, describe, explain, judge, design) that are associated with the different categories: http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/resources/Teaching/CourseDesign/Objectives/BloomsTaxonomyVerbs.pdf
  3. The following charts are a revised version of Bloom’s Taxonomy by Anderson and Krathwohl. The chart incorporates of new knowledge and thought into the original framework: http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/resources/Teaching/CourseDesign/TeacherAssessment/Knowl-CogProcDimension.pdf

Other Resources for Designing Objectives

How Clear Objectives Support Student Learning
http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/resources/Teaching/CourseDesign/Objectives/CourseLearningObjectivesValue.pdf
Learning Objective Samples
http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/design/learningobjectives-samples/index.html