Learning objectives, goals, and outcomes are statements that specify what students should learn and be able to do by the end of a course.
Following the Backward Design course design model, learning objectives help specify the big ideas, essential questions, and skills students should have at the end of your course. Learning objectives should also align with assessments and activities in a course (constructive alignment).
A learning objective statement typically consists of a verb and an object (noun). Consider a learning objective as how one would complete the following sentence:
At the end of this lesson/module, students should be able to ______
SMART Learning Objectives
It may be helpful to use this acronym when writing learning objectives. SMART learning objectives are:
Try to avoid vague or unmeasurable verbs like “know” and “understand,” and use action verbs instead. See the verbs from Bloom’s Taxonomy below for some better alternatives.
This handout on SMART learning objectives also has some examples.
Pictured on the right (and see also this interactive version), the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy hierarchically prioritizes different kinds of knowledge that might be specified in learning objectives. Here are some action verbs associated with each level (from Table 1 at the above link):
- Create – design, construct, plan, produce
- Evaluate – check, critique, judge, monitor, test
- Analyze – organize, differentiate, select, outline
- Apply – execute, implement, use
- Understand – interpret, illustrate, categorize, generalize, predict, contrast, explain
- Remember – identify, recall, recognize
The implication is that the more higher-order learning objectives in a course, the better, as more students will learn more and transfer or apply this knowledge to future courses and real-world settings.
Bloom’s taxonomy can also help faculty to select activities or technologies (such as apps) to use in class that align with learning objectives. See for example this Padagogy Wheel (pdf).
Essential Learning Outcomes
What learning outcomes are most important for students? See:
- Faculty in several disciplines worked together to identify critical learning outcomes for each discipline in the Measuring College Learning project. See the book Improving Quality in American Higher Education: Learning Outcomes and Assessments for the 21st Century, or a summary news article.
- See also the Essential Learning Outcomes from the AAC&U’s LEAP Initiative
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