Tips on Writing Course Goals/Learning Outcomes and Measurable Learning Objectives

The goal is where we want to be. The objectives are the steps needed to get there.

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Description Example
Course Goal / Learning Outcome describes broad aspects of behavior which incorporate a wide range of knowledge and skill Upon completion of this course the student will have reliably demonstrated the ability to use the conventions of grammar when creating paragraphs.
Learning Objectives tend to describe specific, discrete units of knowledge and skill can be accomplished within a short timeframe Given a paragraph of ten sentences, the student will be able to identify ten rules of grammar that are used in its construction.

Course Goals/Learning Outcomes

Course goals or learning outcomes are a broad statement of what the students will be able to do when they have completed the course. You may want to think of it as the ‘moral of the story’. Generally these learning outcomes connect to the overall goals of the curriculum for a given discipline. Clarifying these larger ideas and making connections to the curriculum helps students see the purpose and relevance of the course content. A practical approach to writing learning outcomes is to frame them as responses to the phrase: Upon completion of this course students will…

Learning Objectives

Once the overall learning outcome(s) for the course is identified, the next step is to develop related learning objectives that are observable and measureable. These learning objectives will allow students to demonstrate specific knowledge, mastery of a skill, or a change in attitude. Two questions to consider might be:

  • What behaviors or applications would enable you to infer students’ understanding of what they have learned?
  • What evidence or products, if done well, would provide valid ways of distinguishing between understanding and mere recall?

If your course is divided into modules or units, you may consider developing 2-3 learning objectives for each module. Alternatively it may make more sense to just develop 4-6 learning objectives for the entire course. Regardless of how you organize the course, a practical way to write learning objectives is to frame them as responses to: Upon completion of this course students will be able to

Example Learning Objectives

Upon completion of the unit on plant growth and development students will be able to:

  • list the five most common plant growth hormones
  • describe the relationship between carbon dioxide level and photosynthesis
  • illustrate the transpiration stream in a corn plant

It is easy to measure each of the objectives. Either the student has or has not accomplished each one. These measurable objectives can then be used as the basis for your grading or other type of student assessment. For example, based on the first learning objective above, if a student is able to list all 5 plant hormones they earn 100% for the assignment, if they can only list 4 plant hormones they earn 90%, and so on.

Bloom’s Taxonomy as a Framework for Writing Learning Objectives

Developing a basic understanding of Bloom’s Taxonomy (Bloom et al., 1956) is a good place to start as you begin writing learning objectives.

Bloom’s Taxonomy in a nutshell: In the late 1940’s a group of educators began classifying educational goals and objectives. The intent was to develop a classification system for three domains: the cognitive (mental skills or knowledge), the affective (feelings and emotional skills or attitude), and the psychomotor (manual or physical skills). The work that resulted on the cognitive domain was completed in 1956 and is commonly referred to as Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain (Bloom et al., 1956).

The major concept of the taxonomy is that educational objectives can be arranged in a hierarchy that moves from less to more complex levels of knowledge. The levels are successive; one level must be mastered before the next level can be reached.

The original levels published by Bloom et al. (1956) were ordered as follows:  Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation.

In 2001 Anderson and Krathwohl published a revised version of Bloom’s Taxonomy that reflected what has been learned in the forty or so years since it was first published. In summary, the changes reflect more outcome-focused modern education objectives and include switching the names of the levels from nouns to active verbs. The two highest levels have also been changed with the pinnacle level now being ‘create’.  The revised levels are: Remember, Understand, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate and Create.

Applying Bloom’s Taxonomy to Learning Objectives

Effective learning objectives need to be observable and/or measureable, and using action verbs is a way to achieve this. Verbs such as “identify”, “argue,” or “construct” are more measureable than vague or passive verbs such as “understand” or  “be aware of”.  As you design your course focus on creating clear learning objectives and then use these objectives to guide class assignments, exams and overall course assessment questions.

Action Verbs

Below are examples of action verbs associated with each level of the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy. These are useful in writing learning objectives, assignment objectives and exam questions.

Remember Understand Apply Analyze Evaluate Create
Choose
Describe
Define
Label
List
Locate
Match
Memorize
Name
Omit
Recite
Select
State
Count
Draw
Outline
Point
Quote
Recall
Recognize
Repeat
Reproduce
Classify
Defend
Demonstrate
Distinguish
Explain
Express
Extend
Give Examples
Illustrate
Indicate
Interrelate
Interpret
Infer
Match
Paraphrase
Represent
Restate
Rewrite
Select
Show
Summarize
Tell
Translate
Associate
Compute
Convert
Discuss
Estimate
Extrapolate
Generalize
Predict
Choose
Dramatize
Explain
Generalize
Judge
Organize
Paint
Prepare
Produce
Select
Show
Sketch
Solve
Use
Add
Calculate
Change
Classify
Complete
Compute
Discover
Divide
Examine
Graph
Interpolate
Manipulate
Modify
Operate
Subtract
Categorize
Classify
Compare
Differentiate
Distinguish
Identify
Infer
Point out
Select
Subdivide
Survey
Arrange
Breakdown
Combine
Detect
Diagram
Discriminate
Illustrate
Outline
Point out
Separate
Appraise
Judge
Criticize
Defend
Compare
Assess
Conclude
Contrast
Critique
Determine
Grade
Justify
Measure
Rank
Rate
Support
Test
Combine
Compose
Construct
Design
Develop
Formulate
Hypothesize
Invent
Make
Originate
Organize
Plan
Produce
Role Play
Drive
Devise
Generate
Integrate
Prescribe
Propose
Reconstruct
Revise
Rewrite
Transform

References

Anderson, L.W., & Krathwohl (Eds.). (2001). A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York: Longman.

Bloom, B., Englehart, M. Furst, E., Hill, W., & Krathwohl, D. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York, Toronto: Longmans, Green.

Resources

An interactive model of learning objectives shows the relationship between the knowledge dimension and the cognitive process dimension.

Bloom’s Digital Technology

Content on sample learning objectives adapted from: Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology, Washington State University (2013).