Center for Learning and Teaching

Learning Objectives

Learning objectives are statements that describe what students will be expected to achieve as a result of instruction. On occasion, “goals” and “objectives” are mistakenly used interchangeably; but this is not correct. Goals are broad and often difficult to articulate, whereas objectives are written  in specific and measureable terms. Learning objectives are also a way to establish and articulate academic expectations for students so they know precisely what is expected of them.

When learning objectives are clearly communicated to students, students will be more likely to achieve the presented goals. Conversely, when learning objectives are absent or unclear, students may not know what’s expected of them, which may then lead to confusion, frustration, or other factors that could impede the learning process.

Learning objectives should be...

  1. Learner-centered - Instead of focusing on what an instructor wants to accomplish by the end of course/unit/lesson, learning objectives should focus on what the student will be able to do as a result a specific unit of instruction. Student-centered objectives also communicate the active role a student plays in his/her own learning.
  2. Measurable Action Verbs -  Learning objectives that contain terms like “understand",”appreciate,” or “explore” are vague. How does an instructor know if a student truly understands or appreciates? What specifically will they be able to do as a result of this knowledge? Learning objectives should indicate an overt, observable performance that has a clear assessment method.

It is often helpful to use Bloom’s Taxonomy to help determine the measureable action verb used in your learning objective. Bloom’s taxonomy was originally published in 1956 by a team of cognitive psychologists led by Benjamin Bloom (1913–1999). The group sought to design a logical framework for teaching and learning goals that would help researchers and educators understand the fundamental ways in which people acquire and develop new knowledge, skills, and understandings.

The original taxonomy was organized into three domains:

  • Cognitive
  • Affective
  • Psychomotor

Educators have primarily focused on the Cognitive model, which includes six different classification levels:

  • Knowledge
  • Comprehension
  • Application
  • Analysis
  • Synthesis
  • Evaluation.

In 2001, another team of scholars released a revised version of Bloom’s taxonomy designed to be more useful to educators and to reflect the common ways in which it had come to be used in schools. In the revised version, three categories were renamed and all the categories were expressed as verbs rather than nouns.In addition, Creating became the highest level in the classification system, switching places with Evaluating. The revised version is now:

  • Remembering
  • Understanding
  • Applying
  • Analyzing
  • Evaluating
  • Creating

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Attributions

Portions of this work are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. It is attributed to Great Schools Partnership, and the original version can be found at here.

Last Updated: 3/1/17