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Learning Objectives: Part 1

What are learning objectives? How do they differ from learning goals? And what makes them so helpful to student learning?


Upon completion of this article, readers will be able to:

  • Define what learning objectives are

  • Differentiate between a learning objective and a learning goal

  • Identify why learning objectives are important

Wouldn't life be easier if there was a set and consistent way to know exactly what we could gain from any particular experience or interaction? While life, unfortunately, doesn't work that way, your eLearning course can—and should. Enter learning objectives, your online course's helpful coach.

What Are Learning Objectives?

Learning objectives are brief summaries of measurable and observable things your students will be able to do upon completion of your course (or module or lesson). Ultimately, learning objectives act as the guides of your course.

Learning Objectives vs. Learning Goals

Learning objectives aren’t to be confused with learning goals, which are the overarching ambitions you have for your course. Think of the two as comorbid: your learning objectives, and their successful completion, should help you achieve your learning goals.

An example:

Learning goal: Upon completion of this course, students will understand the role video games play in cognitive development.


Learning objective: Upon completion of this (lesson, module, course), students will be able to:

  • Identify the positive and negative effects video games have on the brain.

  • Explain how video games influence cognitive functions.

  • Make a chart of the areas of the brain most impacted by video games.

  • Compare and contrast the cognitive similarities and differences between brains exposed to video games vs. brains not exposed to video games.

  • Critique scientific research that has been conducted on video games and cognitive development.

  • Plan a research paper with a compelling thesis backed by scientific evidence.

As shown in the example above, learning goals are the core of your course. The learning objectives are the actionable steps taken to reach that core.

Why Are Learning Objectives Important to Your Students?

As mentioned above, learning objectives help guide your students as they work their way through your course.

They perform three main functions for your students: set expectations, provide a sense of direction, and, perhaps most importantly, a purpose.


Learning objectives are excellent ways to signify to students the material they’ll be learning, allowing them to set their expectations for that lesson or module.


How’s that cautionary saying go? “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” Well, to repurpose for the educational crowd, where there're tests, there’s cramming. Learning objectives are excellent references for the directionless (or lost, or overwhelmed) student, by highlighting what their areas of focus should be and providing clear goals to work towards. They’re essentially the checkpoints of your online course.


Breaking your course down into learning objectives helps give each lesson and module (and ultimately the entire course) their own tailored purpose.

Learning objectives can also help answer that age-old question: “Why am I even taking this course?” by showing students exactly what they stand to gain by taking your course. Is there a greater purpose eLearning could ever hope to aspire to?


Learning objectives are a critical part of your student’s learning experience, and effective ones will only help facilitate and accelerate that learning.

They’re not just valuable to students, however. Stay tuned for next week’s blog, where we take a deeper dive into learning objectives and the roles they play in the course development process.

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