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EPD - Instructor Resources - Goals & Learning Objectives

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Effective, efficient and engaging instruction begins with having clear and measurable instructional goals and learning objectives. This helps both instructors and students focus on the learning. Having clear goals and objectives can help instructors select appropriate course materials and learning strategies for effective teaching, assessment and evaluation. When students are informed of the goals and objectives, they can become more aware of their own learning process, and teaching and learning can be more targeted when goals and objectives are appropriate for the learners and stated in clear and measurable terms.

Instructional goals and learning objectives have one thing in common, they focus on what the learner will do and know upon completing the instruction. It is important to remember that the development of instructional goals and objectives depends on the type and purpose of the learning experience that is being created.

When it comes to instructional goals and objects, there are competing philosophies and there are many approaches available to writing goals and objectives (too numerous to mention here). Below is a brief discussion and a few of the more popular approaches with links to resources that may be useful.

Instructional Goals and Learning Objectives

Learning objectives are brief, clear, specific and measurable statements of what students will learn or be able to perform at the conclusion of a unit of instruction. Instructional goals are broad statements reflecting general course goals and outcomes. 

While learning objectives are targeted statements about expected student performance. Generally, learning objectives are competency-based as they designate exactly what students need to do to demonstrate mastery of course material. With this in mind, learning objectives are always stated in terms of student outcomes and thus the purpose of learning objectives is to:
  • Facilitate overall course development by encouraging goal-directed planning
  • Inform students of the standards and expectations of the course
  • Provide information for the development of assessments by identifying the types of evidence that students need to produce to demonstrate understanding
  • Clarify the intent of instruction and guide the design and "alignment" of instructional elements (readings, digital media, instructional resources, strategies, activities, etc.)
  • Provide a framework, and evidence, for evaluating student learning and progress
  • Serve as an implicit contract between instructor and students setting up a basis for accountability
  • Drive curriculum planning (such as the development or revision of courses)
  • Create a framework for evaluating overall effectiveness of an educational program

Differentiating Goals & Objectives

The terms "goals" and "objectives" are sometimes used interchangeably. This is incorrect, because they are different. Instructional goals are broad and sometimes difficult to measure, but provide important sign posts. The important thing about goals is that they help us focus on the big and important picture. According to Brown & Green (2006), an instructional goal is a general statement about the intention of instruction, and a learning objective is usually more specific about how and to what degree the instruction will affect the learner. It is important to have both overarching instructional goals, usually at the course or program level, and specific learning objectives to help focus instructional development and improve the resulting instructional product. It is important to keep in mind that learners appreciate a clear initial understanding of expectations for a course, knowing what they will learn, and what is expected of them. This can also help to effectively market courses and modules.

Creating Course Goals & Learning Objectives

At its core, there is a basic 3-step process for writing learning objectives:
  1. Actions - Start with a statement that describes the condition under which the learning or behavior is to be performed.
  2. Condition - User a word that connotes the observable behavior, or learning to demonstrate.
  3. Criterion - Describe the intended product or outcome.

Examples of Instructional Goals and Objectives
(Adapted from Brown & Green, 2006)

Instructional Goal: Student will recognize and delineate fundamentals of descriptive statistics.

Learning Objectives:

At the end of this module, students will be able to:
    • Differentiate between key summary statistics (mean, medium, and mode, and standard deviation)
    • Explain the impact of outliers on summary statistics such as mean, median and standard deviation.
    • Calculate the key summary statistics (mean, median, quartiles, inter-quartile range, variance, standard deviation) by hand and using appropriate software for a given normally distributed data set.
    • Analyze a given data set using key descriptive statistical procedures.

Notice that all  of the learning objective statements include active verbs (i.e. differentiate, explain, calculate, analyze). For additional resources on wording learning objectives with active verbs see the following resource, and make sure to read the section below on Bloom's Taxonomy.

Tips for Improving Learning Objectives
  • Keep statements short and focused on a single outcome. This allows instructors to determine whether or not a learning objective has been met without having to distinguish between partial completion or success.
  • To ensure that learning objectives are effective and measurable, avoid using verbs that are vague or cannot be objectively assessed, such as "understand".
  • Use active verbs that describe what a student will be able to do once learning has occurred.
  • Learning objectives should be student-focused and target the expected student outcome. To assist in maintaining a student-centered emphasis, start learning objectives with the phrase "The learner/student will be able to…"
  • Learning objectives should be SMART (specific, measurable, acceptable to the instructor, realistic to achieve, and time-bound with a deadline).
  • Include complex or higher-order learning objectives when they are appropriate. Most instructors expect students to go beyond memorization of facts and terminology; learning objectives should reflect instructors' expectations for student performance across many levels of learning.

Instructors can utilize learning objectives as a basis for course preparation. Learning objectives should match instructional strategies and assessment requirements to ensure the connection and strong alignment between various course activities and student assessments. It is useful to construct a table highlighting the relationship. For example:

 Learning Objective  Proposed Instructional Activities  Assessment
 Students will be able to differentiate between methods of Life Cycle Assessment.  Mini Lecture, then group discussion activity that has students list their favorite method/tool, and least favorite method, and explain why.

Students will also select an appropriate LCA tool for use in their final semester project, and submit a summary/reflection explaining why they chose this particular tool, and how it will benefit their project.
 Exam #1,  Assessment Portfolio,  Mastery Questions,  Final Project

Bloom's Taxonomy for Writing Learning Objectives

Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (for Higher Order Thinking Skills is arguably one of the most popular frameworks for writing learning objectives. The figures below show the ubiquitous pyramid of higher order thinking skills. The different levels of knowing provide a useful framework for "getting at" different types of thinking. Each level is not inherently better than another, they are just different, and represent different types of learning, skills, knowledge, and abilities. The best instructional objectives and resulting learning activities will have a mix of Bloom's types, and will be sure to match the student assessment with the types of instruction and learning activities. However, the most important thing to remember is that the development of instructional goals and objectives depends on the type and purpose of the instruction that is being created, and the learning environment or context that will shape the types of learning activities.

bloom's taxamony levels of knowing  bloom's taxonomy pyramid

Learning Objectives Summary

When writing learning objectives, try to answer these three questions:
  1. Does the objective focus on student performance?
  2. Is the task measurable or observable?
  3. What criteria will be used to establish that the objective has been reached?
  • Avoid verbs like understand, learn, and know. They are not particularly measurable. Instead ask yourself "In what way do I want them to "understand" or "know".
  • Sometimes the degree of accuracy is implied by words such as correctly and successfully.
  • Not all lessons result in a tangible product. Therefore, when students verbally demonstrate their learning, the measurable action involves telling, explaining, or discussing.
  • Does the learning objective stem from a course goal or a broader competency?
  • Is the learning objective measurable?
  • Does the learning objective target one specific aspect of expected performance?
  • Is the learning objective student-centered?
  • Does the learning objective utilize an effective, action verb that targets the desired level of performance?
  • Do learning objectives measure a range of educational outcomes?
  • Does the learning objective align with instructional activities and assessments?

Additional Resources

Keywords:EPD   Doc ID:42419
Owner:Paul M.Group:Engineering Professional Development - Department Resources
Created:2014-07-31 14:04 CDTUpdated:2016-08-01 21:59 CDT
Sites:Engineering Professional Development - Department Resources
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