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Helpful Strategies and Tips: Learning Objectives

Submitted by on September 24, 2012 – 8:57 pmNo Comment

This post is part of the series Helpful Strategies and Tips: Designing an Online Course, which provides guidance through common challenges instructors face during online course development.

Learning objectives play an important role in designing instruction of any type. Clearly defined learning objectives and goals provide the foundation and scope for the instructional design, development, delivery, and assessment of an effective learning experience. Learning objectives should be accompanied by measurable outcomes that describe ways in which students can demonstrate that they have achieved the learning objectives. Instruction is only successful to the degree that it accomplishes what it sets out to accomplish.

Learning objectives form the basis for what is to be learned and keep students aware of what they should be able to do when they complete a module or unit of instruction. A well-stated learning objective is always expressed in terms of the learner (focuses on what the learner needs to know, not the instructor). It is precise and supports only one interpretation, it describes an observable behavior, it specifies conditions under which the behavior is performed, and it specifies criteria for accomplishment.

Measurable module or unit learning objectives precisely describe the specific competencies, skills, and knowledge that students should be able to master and demonstrate at regular intervals throughout the course. As stated in QM 2.2: The module/unit learning objectives describe outcomes that are measurable and consistent with the course-level objectives.

Tips for Writing Learning Objectives

  • Objectives describe what learners will be able to do at the end of a unit of instruction and provide clear reasons for learning the material. Write objectives that describe the intended result of a learning module rather than the process of the instruction itself.
  • Always state objectives in terms of what the learner will be able to think, do, or feel as a result of instruction.
  • Measurable objectives state the conditions of performance and the minimum degree of acceptable performance.
  • Objectives usually appear in a bullet list preceded by a stem sentence that communicates the end point by which the objectives will be achieved.
  • Objectives are phrased in succinct, simple sentences, and begin with a specific action verb. The action verb should suggest the form of assessment to be used to determine whether the objective has been met. Avoid using vague words such as “understand,” “know,” or “appreciate.” These words are too broad and do not appropriately communicate expectations to students.

Example of learning objectives:

By the conclusion of this module, students will be able to:

  • Describe the major principles of genetics
  • Describe the basic principles of mitosis and meiosis, and how they are related to life cycle of organisms
  • Define energy and entrophy in light of the laws of thermodynamics
  • Summarize the mechanisms of inheritance and the process by which protein and DNA are synthesized
  • Identify major ecological concepts such as communities, energy flow, and nutrient cycling

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