Learning Objectives: Building a Solid Foundation for Your Course
This is part one of a three-part series on improving the quality of your online course. Below we discuss how learning objectives build a solid foundation for your course. Part two explains how to create course alignment to ensure students achieve learning objectives; part three discusses where and how learner engagement occurs.
Whether you have been teaching for 35 years or 35 minutes, you should continually assess your course’s learning objectives. Learning objectives (often called performance objectives or competencies) are brief, clear, specific statements of what learners will be able to perform at the conclusion of instructional activities. While it may not feel like it, learning objectives are much more than a required formality mandated by an accreditation board—learning objectives are valuable for you and the student; they direct and guide teaching and learning.
Learning objectives help you from the second you start designing your course until the last grade is entered. They even help you reflect on and improve your course for the next round of students. Perfectly and succinctly stated, the Quality Matters Rubric says– “Learning objectives establish a foundation upon which the rest of a course is based.”
The Purpose of Learning Objectives
Standard 2 of the Quality Matters Rubric outlines five major purposes of learning objectives (listed below). Consider your course’s learning objectives—do they meet each of these standards?
1. The course learning objectives describe outcomes that are measurable. Learning objectives should precisely describe what students are to gain from instruction and should avoid vague terminology. Measurable learning objectives also provide the criteria instructors need to accurately assess student accomplishments.
For example: By the conclusion of this module, students will be able to summarize the mechanisms of inheritance and the process by which protein and DNA are synthesized.
2. The module/unit learning objectives describe outcomes that are measurable and consistent with the course-level objectives. The module/unit learning objectives are very important in order to set clear, specific expectations for the student and instructor. They should be consistent with the course objectives, either implicitly or explicitly. For example—
Course-level objective: Students will demonstrate a mastery of rules of punctuation.
Module/Unit-level objective: Students will write sentences that demonstrate correct use of commas, semicolons, and periods.
3. All learning objectives are stated clearly and written from the students’ perspective. In other words, an effective learning objective will explain expectations for student behavior, performance, or understanding. The learning objectives should not be written from the instructor’s point of view.
Incorrect: Lecture on the major principles of genetics.
Correct: By the conclusion of this module, students will be able to describe the major principles of genetics.
4. Instructions to students on how to meet the learning objectives are adequate and stated clearly. While instructions to the students may look different in each course, they should be clear and visible so the students know exactly what is expected of them and how to meet the expectations.
For example: Students may be given a list of steps that guides them in meeting the learning objectives for each week, such as weekly assignment pages in narrative, bulleted list, or chart form.
5. The learning objectives are appropriately designed for the level of the course. Prior to writing learning objectives, you should evaluate the course as a whole and determine which level of learning the student need to master by the end of this course. Use Bloom’s Taxonomy to guide this evaluation. Watch this brief video that shows how to write learning objectives using Bloom’s Taxonomy:
Resources on Writing Learning Objectives Use the resources below that provide information on how to write effective learning objectives:
- 7 Things About Learning Outcomes, University of South Caroline Center for Teaching Excellence
- Learning Objectives: Stems and Samples, Education Oasis
- Helpful Strategies and Tips: Learning Objectives, Faculty eCommons
Share Your Experiences
What is your biggest challenge when writing or assessing learning objectives? Do you have any resources you use when writing learning objectives? Please share with us!