Best Practices For Creating Learning Objectives

Learning objectives help to clarify the purpose of a course for both students and faculty. The learning objectives state what the learner is expected to achieve as a result of instruction. A key quality of effective instructional design is the alignment of objectives with course activities and assessments. By understanding best practices for creating learning objectives, you will find that your course runs more fluidly for both you and your students.

A learning objective should:

  • Be observable and measurable
  • Demonstrate a range of Bloom’s levels of thinking
  • Make teaching more focused and organized
  • Show colleagues and students what you value

A learning objective should not:

  • Use verbs that are difficult to assess, such as: appreciate, be aware of, become acquainted with, comprehend, cover, familiarize, gain knowledge of, know, learn, realize, study, and understand
  • Emphasize unimportant or irrelevant material

How to Get Started

How to Write a Learning Objective

Consider the ultimate outcome that should be apparent as a result of the learning. Do you want students knowing (cognitive domain), doing (psychomotor domain), or feeling (affective domain)? Most courses in higher education focus on the cognitive domain, thus, it is important to examine various levels of cognitive understanding. The cognitive domain is broken down into six categories: remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001). Generally, instructors will want to design learning objectives to target a range of levels of student understanding. The phrasing of learning objectives will help guide both instructional activities and assessment, thus, instructors should carefully select the emphasis of learning and the relevant verb.

An ideal learning objective will include:

  • A measurable verb
  • The important condition (if any) under which the performance is to occur and
  • The criterion of acceptable performance (Mager, 1975)

Step 1: Create the condition (After completing this lesson, the student will be able to…)

Step 2: Add a verb (After completing this lesson, the student will be able to identify…)

Step 3: Add the criterion (After completing this lesson, the student will be able to identify the causes and effects of characterization in British literature)

For more in-depth help with writing learning objectives, sign-up for the asynchronous learning objectives module.

Best Practices

How many do you need?

  • Aim for between 1-3 learning objectives for each major topic, or 5-12 for an entire three-credit-hour course (Writing, 2010).

How do you choose a verb?

  • This table provides helpful options for choosing not only verbs, but the types of activities and assessments to match the objectives.

Examples

Sample Learning Objectives

  • Students will be able to discuss travel plans and preferences in Spanish, both in writing and orally, with sufficient accuracy to be understood by a native speaker who is accustomed to dealing with foreigners.
  • Students will be able to demonstrate appropriate counseling values and attitudes in counseling situations.
  • Students will be able to apply accepted principles and codes to resolve ethical dilemmas that arise in the client/counselor relationship.
  • Students will be able to quickly identify the reagent in a chemical reaction when given the starting material and the ending material.
  • Students will be able to describe how horticulture impacts their lives.
  • Students will be able to display insect specimens using appropriate mounting and labeling techniques.

Resources

  • Anderson, L. & Krathwohl, D. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching and assessing: a revision of Bloom’s taxonomy. New York. Longman Publishing.
  • Davis, S. (2005). Writing learning objectives: Beginning with the end in mind. Presented at Ohio University. Retrieved from http://www.oucom.ohiou.edu/fd/writingobjectives.pdf
  • Mager, R. (1962). Preparing objectives for programmed instruction. San Francisco, CA: Fearon Publishers.
  • Writing learning outcomes. (2010). British Columbia Institute of Technology. Retrieved from https://www.bcit.ca/files/ltc/pdf/ja_learningoutcomes.pdf