The Guide to Writing Learning Objectives
- How to write learning outcomes
- How to write learning objectives
- Four-part ABCD learning objectives
- Understanding Bloom's taxonomy
Leaning objectives play a vital role in course design. Before you dive into writing your course, it's important that you're super clear about your learning goals.
By creating solid learning outcomes and measurable learning objectives, it'll help with your instructional design – keeping student learning on track.
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How to write learning outcomes
Learning outcomes (sometimes called course goals) are a broad statement of what your students will be able to do once they've completed the course. You could call the learning outcome the ‘moral of the story’.
Your learning outcomes should be connected to the overall goals of the curriculum for your subject. When you clarify these larger ideas and connect them to the curriculum, it helps students see why the course content is relevant.
One way to write learning outcomes is to think of them as responses to this phrase:
At the end of the course, students will…
Here's a sample learning outcome:
At the end of the course, students will have shown that they can use grammar conventions when creating paragraphs.
How to write learning objectives
Once you've figured out the learning outcome(s) for your course, it's time to develop some learning objectives. Effective learning objectives allow students to show specific ways that they've gained knowledge, skills, or a change in attitude.
These two questions can help you write clear learning objectives:
- What behaviours or applications would help you to know what students have learned?
- What evidence or products would help you to know whether students truly understand a subject, as opposed to just being able to recall facts?
One way to articulate learning objectives is to think of them as responses to this phrase:
At the end of the course, students will be able to…
Here's a sample learning objective:
At the end of the course, students will be able to pick out ten rules of grammar that are used in the construction of a ten-sentence paragraph.
If your course is made up of modules or units, you might want to develop a few learning objectives for each module. Or you could have four to six learning objectives for the whole course.
Four-part ABCD learning objectives
Robert Mager's ABCD model is a way to make sure your learning objectives are specific and measurable. It helps to guide instructors and aid students in the learning process.
Each letter asks a different question about your objective: who, what, how, and how much. You might not need each of the four letters for every learning objective. But it's a good model to keep in mind.
Who are your learners?
Each learning objective should list something that your audience is able to do after the training. Sometimes, you'll refer to the audience in general terms – like 'the learner' or 'you'. Or it might be more specific, like 'the press operator'.
What do you want your audience to do?
Each learning objective should list something that your audience must do – a behaviour of some sort. It could be simple, like stating a definition or explaining a process. Or it could be something more physical, like performing an action.
The crucial thing is that it's observable behaviour – not something that you can't see, like 'know,' 'understand,' or 'appreciate.'
How will the learning happen?
Many learning objectives need to be performed under certain conditions. For example, you might say 'given this list of words, circle the ones that are part of a given machine,' or 'given a wrench, tighten this bolt,' or 'given a schematic diagram, correctly identify the machines in a work area.' You may not always need this learning condition, but you should check to see if it's necessary.
How much will the audience accomplish?
This final part of the learning objective explains the criteria for adequately performing the task. It might be 'in less than five minutes,' or 'with 80% accuracy,' or '15 times an hour.'
Again, you may not always need this learning condition, but you should check to see if it's necessary.
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Understanding Bloom's taxonomy
Before you start writing learning objectives, it's a good idea to get a handle on Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives. Developed by a group of educators in the late 1940s, it classifies learning objectives into three levels of complexity and specificity.
- The cognitive (mental skills or knowledge)
- The affective (feelings and emotional skills or attitude)
- The psychomotor (manual or physical skills)
The main concept of Bloom's taxonomy is that levels of learning can be arranged in a hierarchy. These levels of learning range from less to more complex knowledge. Each level is successive, so students need to master one level before reaching the next one.
Six levels of objectives in the cognitive domain
The original levels published by Bloom and co. in 1956 were in this order:
- Knowledge – recognising or remembering facts, terms, basic concepts, or answers without necessarily understanding what they mean
- Comprehension – demonstrating an understanding of facts and ideas by organising, comparing, translating, interpreting, giving descriptions, and stating the main ideas
- Application – solving problems in new situations by applying acquired knowledge, facts, techniques and rules.
- Analysis – examining and breaking information into component parts, determining how the parts relate to one another, identifying motives or causes, making inferences, and finding evidence to support generalisations.
- Synthesis – building a structure or pattern from diverse elements; it also refers to the act of putting parts together to form a whole.
- Evaluation – presenting and defending opinions by making judgments about information, the validity of ideas, or quality of work based on a set of criteria.
The Kratwohl remix
In 2001, David Krathwohl published a revised version of Bloom’s taxonomy. This revision of Bloom's original incorporates everything that's been learned in the 40+ years since it was first published.
The revised Bloom's taxonomy has more outcome-focused modern level objectives. It includes switching the names of Bloom's levels from nouns to active verbs. The two highest levels have also been changed, with the top level now being ‘create’.
The revised levels are:
A list of action verbs
As we've learned, effective learning objectives need to be observable or measurable. One way to do this is by using action verbs – like 'identify,' 'argue,' or 'construct' – rather than passive verbs – like 'understand' or 'be aware of.'
There are lots of action verbs associated with each level of the revised Bloom’s taxonomy. They're super helpful for writing good learning objectives, assignment objectives, and exam questions.
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