Learning objectives and alignment
This document is part of a larger collection of documents on online instruction from the Center for Teaching, Learning and Mentoring's Instructional Resources KnowledgeBase. See more online instruction documents from that collection.
Resources on learning objectives and the alignment of activities with them
Learning objectives describe what learners will be able to do upon completion of a course or instructional unit. Educators often refer to learning objectives as student learning outcomes, learning goals, performance outcomes, instructional objectives, behavioral objectives, or core competencies. Well-crafted courses have learning objectives that describe overall, high-level objectives for the course (the big ideas), as well as more detailed learning objectives for each unit or module of content.
Why Is It Important?
Carefully written learning outcomes provide students with a roadmap that explains where they are going in the course and what to expect when they get there. They describe the intended purposes and expected results of the course, unit, or activity. Unit or module learning objectives also provide students with benchmarks by which they can measure their progress towards achieving the course outcomes.
Learning objectives also guide instructors to align critical course components, such as student assessments, instructional materials, course activities, and course technology. When aligned, the major course components work together to ensure that students achieve the desired learning objectives. In an online course especially, objectives help instructors guide their choices about the content that needs to be included—what is truly important versus what is just nice to have.
How to Put Into Practice?
How to Write Measurable Learning Objectives
- Identify an object, thing, or idea (usually a noun) you want students to learn. Consider the desired knowledge dimension: factual, conceptual, procedural, or metacognitive. Example: The seven steps of the research process (procedural).
- Identify the level of knowledge expected. It’s important to choose the appropriate level of learning because this directly influences the type of assessment that you choose to measure your students’ learning. (Refer to Bloom’s Taxonomy pyramid that follows, where there are six levels of learning: Remembering, Understanding, Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating, and Creating.) Example: To understand the seven steps of the research process (understanding).
- Select a verb (an action) that is observable to describe the behavior at the appropriate level of learning. Many verbs are listed here. Example: Explain these seven steps.
- Add additional criteria to indicate how or when the outcome will be observable to add context for the student. Example: Describe the seven steps of the research process when writing a paper.
Note: A smaller number of well‐written objectives communicate the purpose of a course better than a larger number. The number of objectives really depends on what students “need” to learn, either for that week, unit or module, or the entire course. While there are many things it would be “nice” to know, always ask yourself:
- What do they “need” to know?
- Is what they need to know “worth” learning?
Also ask: What is the one thing this week that you really want students to learn and be able to apply? Recall that the objectives, materials, activities, and assessments should all align to ensure that this one thing is learned and applied by the students.
Where to Find Resources?
- Build an objective using the interactive UW-Madison Objective Builder.
- Learn more in this lesson about Writing Measurable Objectives.
- Review the wealth of resources about Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy.
- Utilize the UW-Madison tips and examples for writing student learning outcomes.