Establishing learning objectives for your course is very helpful in enabling you to define what knowledge, skills, and attitudes you would like your students to walk away with after having taken your course. Rather than thinking of your course as a collection of material that must simply be conveyed to your students, learning objectives help you to conceptualize your course around a collection of goals students will work toward throughout your course. Establishing learning objectives early on in the design of your course is imperative for organizing content, crafting meaningful assessment, and successfully delivering your course.

Learning Objectives should be:

Concrete. Learning objectives should be specific and focused. Avoid objectives that are vague or disconnected from the activities students will undertake. If it is unclear how a particular learning objective is manifested in the course it should be re-written or eliminated.

Measurable. Avoid terms like “understand” when writing learning objectives. In addition to being somewhat vague, “understanding” is actually rather difficult to measure. Learning objectives can be framed in terms of activities student should be capable of undertaking upon completion of the course. Your program or field may provide standards that can be used to assess student progress toward or completion of objectives relevant to a particular field of study.

Performance-based. Learning objectives should be framed around tasks or activities that student will undertake both toward achieving a particular learning objective. It is not uncommon for an objective to be phrased in the form of “The learner/student will be able to. . .”

Learning Objectives provide a roadmap for planning appropriate learning activities and assessments for the course. Students also benefit from learning objectives because they establish clear expectations for their studies.

Tips on Writing Learning Objectives

The learning objective “Student will understand the basics human anatomy” is a good start in terms of being student centered and clear as to the relevant content area, but it falls short by using a vague verb like “understand” that cannot easily be measured. This learning objective might be rewritten as “Students will be able to correctly identify anatomical structures in the human body.” This gets at the same relevant content area, but frames the learning in the context of a task that can presumably be measured, i.e. a student’s actual identification of specific anatomical parts on a model or diagram. This objective could further be broken into sub-objectives (say for the different anatomical components) that could tie to specific areas of the course and assessment activities.


Further Readings

Carnegie Mellon – Articulate Your Learning Objectives