Writing Learning Objectives

Last revised: 3/14/2019 by TJS

Overview:

This post describes learning objectives and provides tips on how to write them well.

What are learning objectives?

Learning objectives are brief statements that describe what students will be expected to learn.  They allow us to design our teaching approaches to meet the needs of our students for their learning.  We also use them to communicate our expectations to students and direct the design of our teaching.

Learning objectives clearly describe what we expect our students to be able to do after participating in the educational activities we have designed and developed for them.  They allow us to directly align our assessment strategies and methodologies with clear, measurable student-centered outcomes.

Example of a Learning Objective:

After reviewing the New Deal primary sources, students will be able to debate the effectiveness of New Deal programs using at least six pieces of evidence.

The Components of Objectives (A-B-C-D’s):

A common way of framing objective components is using the A-B-C-D model.  These include: audience, behavior, condition, and degree.

    • A (audience) – Who is the target audience? (e.g. “students will be able to…”)
    • B (behavior) – What is the skill or ability that the student will be able to perform? (e.g. “debate)
      • The behavior should be both observable and measurable.
      • Express the behavior with a single verb.  Compound verbs make it harder to determine that a student has met the objective.
    • C (condition) – Within what conditions/constraints will the audience be expected to perform these tasks?  (e.g. “After reviewing the New Deal primary sources…”).
    • D (degree) – How will the behavior need to be performed? (e.g. “using at least six pieces of evidence”).

Make sure your objectives are:

    • concise – keep them short, focused, and to the point.
      • In the example above, we only include the most important descriptive details.
    • student friendly – minimize jargon where you can.
      • In the example above, we include almost no “jargon.”  The only term that students might be unaware of is: “New Deal programs.”  This is important for novice learners coming to a new course or discipline.

Verbs

Objective Verbs

The verbs we choose for learning objectives should manifest behaviors we can observe and measure.  Therefore, we should choose verbs carefully.

Verb Selection Do’s and Don’ts

What follows are some verbs to use and verbs to avoid based on their observability and measurability.  Focus on the skill or ability that you intend to assess.

Use Don’t Use
  • describe
  • explain
  • apply
  • compare
  • evaluate
  • understand
  • know
  • grasp
  • appreciate
  • comprehend

Bloom’s Taxonomy – The Cognitive Domain

In 1956, Benjamin Bloom began a project to evaluate the instructional strategies in classrooms.  He and his colleagues organized these learning observations they made into a taxonomy ranging from the Knowledge (Lowest cognitive task) to Evaluation (Highest cognitive task).  This focuses specifically on the cognitive domain (see UConn’s guide below for additional information on the other domains). Bloom's Taxonomy from 1956

From Wikimedia Commons

Updated in 2001 (Anderson & Krathwohl), a new taxonomy was drafted (as pictured right).  This update moved Evaluating and Creating.  They also phrased the levels in a more active mindset (present progressive tense).

Tip: This most important thing to take away here is that we should be thinking across these “levels” as we’re designing learning.  In order for us to learn meaningfully, we need to do all of these things.  Check out the Bloom’s resources below for verb ideas.

Bloom's Taxonomy Revised in 2001

From Wikimedia Commons

Bloom’s Verb Resources

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