How to Improve Learning Objectives

How to Improve Learning Objectives

When revising your learning objectives take care to align it to the appropriate level expected from your students. Bloom’s Taxonomy of the cognitive domain is generally used to describe levels of student comprehension or learning.

Blooms Taxonomy graphic 

From the perspective of Bloom’s taxonomy:

Knowledge           =       rote memorization, recognition of terms, or recall of facts

Comprehension    =       understanding or describing the meaning of information

Application          =       correct use of facts, rules, processes, procedures, or ideas

Analysis               =       identify, examine, categorize the component parts of an idea

Synthesis             =       connecting ideas and concepts to produce new perspectives or ideas

Evaluation            =       Assessing the accuracy, merit, credibility, value, etc. of information

See the chart of action verbs in Appendix A for help writing objectives for each levels of Bloom’s taxonomy.

Writing learning objectives is as easy as A, B, C, D

A well written learning objective should describe what a student should know or do, under what conditions, and the criteria for evaluation. The ABCD acronym may be a helpful aid to memory when thinking of learning objectives in the future.

A well written learning objective identifies the elements:

Audience
Behavior
Condition
Degree of mastery

Example Objective Revision

The following is an example of a vaguely written learning objective that needs revising:

“At the conclusion of this course students will: Know basic spreadsheet concepts and know when a spreadsheet is an appropriate tool to choose.”

Words like “know” or “understand” do not describe what students can be observed doing. The example objective is revised into proper objective form that identifies specific skills students must be able to demonstrate. Here is the example revised:

“At the conclusion of this course students will be able to:
Create and manipulate spreadsheets, formulae, concepts and calculations.
Navigate, enter data, copy and move text.
Analyze data demonstrating real world scenarios by creating professional-quality charts and diagrams.”

Steps for developing a learning objective for a hypothetical Research Methods course:
(Adapted from Boysen, G. A. (2012). A guide to writing learning objectives for teachers of psychology. State University of New York at Fredonia & McKendree University).

STEP A: Describe your audience.

“Students in Research Methods . . .”

STEP B: Describe the behavior (verb) which will be assessed.

“. . . will identify . . .”

STEP C: Describe the condition(s) of the behavior (in what context, with what tools, etc.)

“. . . when given a psychological topic and access to PsycINFO.”

 STEP D: Describe the degree (accuracy, duration, precision) of the behavior.

“. . .five empirical research studies . . .”

Put it all together: “Students in Research Methods will identify five empirical articles when given a psychological topic and access to PsycINFO.”

Summary

Writing effective learning objectives requires thought and practice, and will often require several revisions before the objectives express the critical learning outcomes desired. But, it is worth the effort, both for you and your students. As a result, you will be better able to more clearly assess the structure and content of the course, as well as improving assessment strategies for measuring students’ achievement of the learning objectives. Your students will appreciate the improved objectives because they will provide clear guidance on where they should focus their energies and time, and also provide them a basis for developing metacognitive habits in assessing their own learning.