Strategies to formulate efficient learning objectives

Articulating your learning objectives will help:

  • YOU in selecting and organizing course content, and determining appropriate assessments and instructional strategies.
  • STUDENTS to direct their learning efforts appropriately and monitor their own progress.

Learning objectives should be student-centered.

We, as instructors, often have a good idea of what we want to accomplish in a given course: we want to cover certain topics, or we want to teach students certain ideas and skills. We should also think in terms of what we want the students to be able to do at the end of the course. It is very helpful to articulate learning objectives by completing this prompt:

“At the end of the course, students should be able to _____.”

Learning objectives should break down the task and focus on specific cognitive processes.

Many activities that faculty believe require a single skill (for example, writing or problem solving) actually involve a synthesis of many component skills.

To master these complex skills, students must practice and gain proficiency in the discrete component skills. Breaking down the skills will allow us to select appropriate assessments and instructional strategies so that students practice all component skills.

Learning objectives should use action verbs.

Focusing on concrete actions and behaviors allows us to make student learning explicit, and communicates to students the kind of effort we expect of them. Sample learning objectives for a math class might be:

  • “State theorems”
  • “Prove theorems”
  • “Apply theorems to solve problems“
  • “Decide when a given theorem applies”

Using action verbs enables you to more easily measure the degree to which students can do what you expect them to do.

Learning objectives should be measurable.

Because learning objectives should guide the selection of assessments, they cannot be vague. All of learning objectives must be measurable in that they point to a clear assessment that can easily check whether students have mastered that skill .Some learning objectives that are typically vague but are often used include:

  • “Understand X”
  • “Obtain a working knowledge of X”
  • “Gain an appreciation for X”

These objectives can be clarified by asking ourselves:

“What would students do differently if they really ‘understand’ or ‘appreciate’ X?”

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