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An Introduction to Learning Objectives

An Introduction to Learning Objectives

Adapted from Teaching with Technology, U. Wisc. (2013)

Well-crafted learning objectives (also called learning goals) are part of any effective course--whether it meets in-person or online. In short, learning objectives allow all stakeholders in the course (instructors, students, schools, etc.) to share a common understanding of what the course is about. This short document outlines some of the considerations that you might want to make when identifying strong learning objectives and designing your own.

Instructors & Course Designers

For instructors and course designers, the value of a learning objective is perhaps most obvious. In short, learning objectives enable the blended learning design process to happen. Learning objectives provide road map for a course and help align content, assessments and activities to round out the learning experience.


Well-developed learning objectives can also help students to understand better their own learning process. When the goals are explicit, students can more purposefully approach readings, activities, and assignments and more easily make connections that deepen the learning experience. Furthermore, students may be able to articulate skills more clearly and link their learning experiences to a real-world context.

Institutions, Departments and Programs

Though our primary focus remains at the course level, learning objectives can have significance beyond the course level. In thinking about how your course objectives take shape, it may be worth considering how programs, departments, and institutions might use learning objectives to help organize more holistic learning pathways for students. For example, many institutions have a set of essential learning outcomes that help communicate to stakeholders how an education will prepare students for life after graduation.

Departments and programs can also outline learning objectives that align with those institutional objectives but speak more specifically to how a program of study will prepare a student for a specific discipline.

Learning Objectives and Course Structure

Learning objectives might seem straightforward, but there are actually quite a number of considerations to make to ensure that an objective is complete and works to align with the various elements of a blended course. The diagram below outlines how objectives work at various levels of a course to build the course structure and to help define the various assignments, activities, and assessments.

objectives in scheme of course design
from UCF's Blended Learning Toolkit

Anatomy of an Objective

A learning objective is a brief statement with several important characteristics:

  • contains a verb that aligns with the designed learner action
  • contains object that summarizes the desired knowledge or skill
  • is actionable - can be put into practice or though activity
  • is measurable or observable- can be assessed to determine whether the objective was met

While each characteristic above is an important component of a complete learning objective, it is worth spending a moment looking at the way in which the verb can link an objective to one of the six cognitive domains within Bloom's Taxonomy.

Now that we've established the component parts of a well-written objective, let's look review a few examples. Consider the table below and note the difference between the strong and weak objectives. As you review the chart, notice how the strong objectives include each of the essential components of an objective (listed above). At the same time, note how the weak objectives contain a non-descript verb and imprecise object.

Weak Objectives

Strong Objectives

Know how to use t-tests and chi-square tests in data analysis

Describe the assumptions underlying t-tests and chi-square tests and use these tests to statistically compare two samples

Understand how to measure the association between a given risk factor and a disease

Define and calculate measures of association between a given risk factor and a disease.

Basic strategies for identifying shapes.

List, describe, and compare the geometric properties of common shapes (square, trapezoid, etc.)

Know about animal and plant cells.

Compare and contrast the visual and biological properties of animal and plant cells.

Apply Your Learning: Questions to Consider

  1. Does your program or department have well defined learning objectives or outcomes for students?
  2. If so, how do those objectives impact your course design, activities, and assessments?
  3. If you have learning objectives developed for your course, are they written in a way that is measurable and actionable?

DMU Timestamp: May 11, 2020 21:16

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