Learning Objectives: Part 3

How do you write effective learning objectives?


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We previously covered the basics of learning objectives and their relevance to students and teachers in Part 1 and Part 2. Now it’s time to take it all the way and learn how to actually write effective ones!


Read on for three steps on how to write effective learning objectives.


1. Align your learning objectives with your learning goals


Recall from Part 1 that learning objectives and learning goals aren’t the same things. And since your learning goals should be well established before you begin drafting your learning objectives, this step will be the easiest.


Your learning goals function as the broadest learning category of your course, whereas learning objectives function one step down from them. What does one step down from the expansive learning goals look like? They should be more specific than the learning goals, of course, but not as detailed as homework might be.


For example:


Learning Objective:

Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to discuss how video games can increase the size of the parts of the brain that are related to visuospatial skills.


The above learning objective is a good example of an effective one, as it displays a clearly defined objective that is communicating to the student the specific knowledge they will obtain.


Assignment:

Students will write a report on the relationship between video games and visuospatial skills.


In contrast, this example functions more like homework than a learning objective. It is too specific to tie back to any broader learning goals as it is an activity to do, not what you will gain from doing that activity. If you’re ever in doubt, remember that the objective is the what, and the assignment is the how.


Essentially, effective learning objectives will describe the specific accomplishments a student will achieve following a particular unit. These accomplishments, like knowledge or skills, can then be used to realize the learning goals. So any learning objectives that don’t lead to accomplishments that directly support the learning goals are not aligned with the learning goals and are therefore not effective.


To help keep your goals and objectives aligned, keep a list of your learning goals and reference them as you write your learning objectives. For each learning objective you come up with, try to trace it back to one or more of your learning goals. If there’s no clear path, ask yourself how you can make that connection stronger, and rework your objectives accordingly.


2. Keep your objectives observable and measurable


In the context of learning objectives, observable and measurable means detectable. You want there to be evidence that your students have met your learning objectives, which means they can’t be too vague or nebulous. Otherwise, how will you know they’ve been successfully achieved?


The best way to accomplish this is with actionable verbs. The best action verbs will request a specific, well, action of your students—one that you can witness. For instance, a good action verb like “list” is far more quantifiable than a fuzzier “understand.” Measuring a student’s “understanding” of a concept is much more open to interpretation (and frustration) than being able to review a concrete list produced by the student. In determining an action verb, it can be helpful to frame it in the context of your assessment process—if you can’t easily identify a way to measure the student’s accomplishment via assessment, it’s likely not concrete enough.


Check out the table below for some examples of effective vs ineffective verbs to use when drafting your learning objectives.


Effective:

List

Identify

Describe

Explain

Summarize

Draw

Calculate

Build

Critique

Compare and contrast


Ineffective:

Know

Grasp

Learn

Comprehend

Understand

Appreciate


For example:


Effective Learning Objective: Upon completion of this course, students will be able to compare and contrast how video games enhance and/or impair cognitive function in the human brain.


Ineffective Learning Objective: Upon completion of this course, students will be able to grasp how video games affect the human brain.


3. Categorize your objectives according to their complexity


Not all learning objectives are created equal and require equal thought and effort. Just as your course lessons will increase in complexity as students progress through the course, so should their learning objectives.


Learning objectives operate on a hierarchical scale from basic to advanced—and certain action verbs are better suited to certain levels of difficulty. Enter Bloom’s Taxonomy.


Bloom’s Taxonomy is a fantastic tool for matching action verbs with a learning objective’s intended level of complexity. Is your course, module, or lesson more introductory and entry-level, or intermediate? Check out and stick to the bottom three levels of the pyramid, which encompass remembering (as the lowest tier), understanding (the second-lowest tier), and applying (the third-lowest tier). For later lessons and modules or more expert courses, the top three levels of creating, evaluating, and analyzing (which all occupy the same tier) would be better suited to audiences you expect greater involvement from.


Conclusion

And there you have it—three steps on how to write effective learning objectives for Part 3. Thanks for sticking it out with us throughout this trilogy. Your course—and your students—will thank you for it!