Writing Effective Learning Objectives

Overview

Learning objectives define what students will learn as a result of the educational experiences they will have in your course. Well-written learning objectives clearly describe what students will learn and provide guidelines for assessing student progress. The benefits of writing effective learning objectives include: 

  • Helping you create a course that is more focused and organized

  • Assisting you in defining the depth and breadth of course content

  • Guiding your choice of assessments, instructional materials, and activities you should design for your course

Hierarchy of Learning Objectives

A hierarchy of objectives may be present in your course depending on the direction of the college and/or program that the course is being created for. Here is the typical hierarchy of objectives, going from very general to more specific:     

  • University/Department level (very general): Boise State University has identified broad University Learning Outcomes that are intended for undergraduate courses only. Departments may also write general-level learning objectives that they want students to achieve. The Program Learning Outcomes by College at Boise State are also available for your reference.

  • Course-level (general): These objectives outline the main things students should know or be able to do by the end of a course. Course-level objectives may be written by a department as part of a comprehensive curriculum plan for a degree or certificate program. These objectives guide the writing of more specific module-level objectives. 

  • Module-level (specific): Module learning objectives describe the expected learning for each specific module or unit. These reflect the specific goals and purposes for all the assessments, learning activities, and instructional materials provided in the course.

Clear alignment between the course-level and the module-level learning objectives is essential. Course and module objectives should be consistent with one another, with the module objectives playing a subordinate, supportive role in achieving the course objectives. Refer to Aligning Objectives, Assessment, and Activities for more details on aligning course components to assist learners in achieving desired learning outcomes.

How to Write Effective Learning Objectives

First, answer the following questions as you begin to develop your objectives:

  • What are the expectations of this course as set by my university, department, and/or program? 

  • What subject matter (or content-specific) goals are needed for these students? (E.g. discipline-specific knowledge, tools, framework).

  • What content-neutral outcomes are needed for these students? (E.g. higher-order thinking skills, attitudes or self-awareness).

  • What resources may be available that may include learning objectives? (E.g. textbook, syllabus, publisher materials, etc.).

Second, write down your course objectives in the form of goals. Here are a few examples…

  1. I want students to identify geologic events that have changed the Earth,

  2. Understand the heat engines that impact Earth’s processes, and 

  3. Develop an appreciation for the tectonic theory.  

Third, revise your goal to transform it into an objective that you can observe and measure by using one action verb for the level of learning that you wants students to achieve. Refer to the objectives below that are created from the goals listed above:

  1. Students will identify four major geologic events that have altered the Earth’s atmosphere. (In this example, “Identify” is measurable and is the correct level of learning. The instructor added more specific details like the number of major geologic events and what is altered.) 

  2. Describe the two heat engines that use gravity to drive Earth processes. (“Understand” is replaced with “Describe” because “understand” is NOT measurable.) 

  3. Explain plate tectonic theory in four sentences or less. (“Develop an appreciation” is not measurable and is replaced with “Explain” with additional details that can be observed and measured.)   

The ultimate test of a learning objective is whether the student’s attainment of the objective can be observed and measured. Here are a few additional resources on writing effective learning objectives:

Examples

Measurable learning objectives:

  • Select appropriate investment strategies that align with the company’s financial goals

  • Create a marketing campaign targeting a specific customer profile using available technology

  • Apply knowledge of cultural biases and differences to personalize genetic counseling sessions to diverse populations

Learning objectives that are NOT measurable: 

  • Be aware of how to use APA citations

  • Realize the significance of recent advances in genetic research

  • Understand how to reason with others 

Additional learning objective examples: 

Related Information


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