Learning Objectives: The Why and Wherefore

What are Learning Objectives?

Learning objectives are, as Edutech Wiki puts it, statements that define the expected goal of a curriculum, course, lesson or activity in terms of demonstrable skills or knowledge that will be acquired by a student as a result of instruction. In other words, a learning objective should describe what students should know or be able to do at the end of the course that they couldn’t do before.

These three main course components should be aligned to ensure an internally consistent structure, alignment happening when the:

  • Learning Objectives articulate the knowledge and skills you want students to acquire by the end of the course
  • Assessments allow the teacher to check the degree to which the students are meeting the learning objectives
  • Teaching Strategies are chosen to foster student learning towards meeting the learning objectives

When the above three components are not aligned, students would be justified in complaining that the test did not correspond to the material covered in class, or teachers might feel that even though students passed, they have not really mastered the material at the desired level.

Aligning these three components is a dynamic process because when you change one the other two get affected. One approach to this is to start with the learning objectives, then go on to the other two components, revisiting this cycle in iterations as needed.

Learning objectives should be student-centered. Teachers should think in terms of what they 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 _____.” (Eberly Center, n.d.)

Specifying Learning Objectives

The objectives must be clear to students. They should know what they are learning and why. They should also be able to situate this in the bigger picture; that is, how it relates to the last lesson, the course being followed and the overall goal.

Learning objectives should be brief, clear, specific statements of what learners will be knowing and able to do at the end of a lesson as a result of the teaching that has taken place. They are sometimes called learning outcomes. The learning objectives should be based on three areas of learning: knowledge, skills and attitudes. They help to clarify, organize and prioritize learning. They help the teacher and students evaluate progress and encourage the students to take responsibility for their learning.

Good learning objectives define observable and measurable outcomes. “Learning” and “understanding” are laudable instructional goals, but they are not observable or measurable. You cannot measure learning or understanding; but you can measure how well a student can organize, label, explain, or create. A learning objective must not include the phrases like ‘to know’ or ‘to understand’ but instead should include active verbs such as ‘state’, ‘explain’, ‘outline’, ‘list’ or ‘describe’. Avoid using verbs that are difficult to measure objectively. Using action verbs enables you to more easily measure the degree to which students can do what you expect them to do. For instance, sample learning objectives for a math class might be (Eberly Center, n.d.):

  • “State theorems” (memorization and recall)
  • “Prove theorems” (applying knowledge)
  • “Apply theorems to solve problems” (applying knowledge)
  • “Decide when a given theorem applies” (meta-cognitive decision-making skills)

One unit of instruction – whether a course, assignment, or workshop – might have multiple learning outcomes that span a range levels of learning as described by Bloom’s Taxonomy and indicated by relevant, active verbs. For instance, for a class on Space Exploration, the learning objectives can be as follows:

“By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • predict the appearance and motion of visible celestial objects
  • formulate scientific questions about the motion of visible celestial objects
  • plan ways to model and/or simulate an answer to the questions chosen
  • select and integrate information from various sources, including electronic and print resources, community resources, and personally collected data, to answer the questions chosen
  • communicate scientific ideas, procedures, results, and conclusions using appropriate SI units, language, and formats
  • describe, evaluate, and communicate the impact of research and other accomplishments in space technology on our understanding of scientific theories and principles and on other fields of endeavour”

Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy for Formulating Learning Objectives

Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy is a tool for defining learning objectives, planning instruction and choosing assessments. It combines the original levels of learning (Cognitive Process Dimension) with types of knowledge (Knowledge Dimension).

The Cognitive Process Dimension reflects Bloom’s categories or levels of learning, going from simple to complex.

1. Remember: recognizing or recalling relevant knowledge, facts or concepts
2. Understand: constructing meaning from instructional messages
3. Apply: using ideas and concepts to solve problems
4. Analyze: breaking something down into components, seeing relationships and overall structure
5. Evaluate: making judgments based on criteria and standards
6. Create: reorganizing diverse elements to form a new pattern or structure

The categories of the Knowledge Dimension range from concrete to abstract, but do not necessarily range in complexity. For example, learning a procedure or skill does not require a mastery of all related facts and concepts; and metacognitive knowledge (knowing how well you understand something) can be done at any level of learning.

• Factual (Knowing that): the basic elements used to communicate, understand, organize a subject such as terminology scientific terms or labels, vocabulary, jargon, and symbols or representations; and specific details such as knowledge of events, people, dates, sources of information.
• Conceptual (Knowing what and why): the knowledge of principles and generalizations; classifications, categories and theories; and models or structures of a subject.
• Procedural (Knowing how): includes knowing how to do something such as performing specific skills and algorithms, techniques and methods.
• Metacognitive (Knowing how to know): a knowledge of cognition (the process or strategy of learning and thinking), an awareness of one’s own cognition, and the ability to control, monitor, and regulate one’s own cognitive process.

Then, create a table putting the knowledge dimension variables in first left hand column and cognitive process dimension variables at the top in first row, with the very first cell at the top left empty. Then, align learning objective, assessment and teaching or instructional strategy for each cell. (The Center for Faculty Development, 2007)

Checking if Learning Objectives Met: Assessment

Assessment is a system for collecting evidence about student learning that we can use to improve and make judgments about learning. No single type of assessment provides a complete picture of student learning, but choosing the right type or right combination of assessments will give you a more accurate measurement of how closely students have achieved the learning objectives. For instance, such assessments can be:

• Objective tests
• Essay-type answers
• Concept maps
• Projects & performances

There are two types of assessment: formative and summative:

• Formative assessment is done before or during the course (a pre-test or mid-term assignment) to determine where students are in relation to the learning goals. This allows teachers to make adjustments in instruction and shows students where to focus their efforts.
• Summative assessment is done at the conclusion of instruction (a final test or project) to judge the quality of student skills and knowledge. It helps us judge student learning and assign grades or marks. (The Center for Faculty Development, 2007)

What if Learning Objectives are not met?

This could imply a problem or deficiency with one or more of the following components of the classic lesson plan format, so make necessary adjustments and corrections as necessary:

1. Anticipatory set: This is where we get students interested in the lesson and set objectives for the day.
2. Direct instruction: Facts, concepts, and skills are delivered via lecture, video, reading—some way of getting the information into students’ heads.
3. Guided practice and application: With the support of the teacher, students apply what they have just been taught.
4. Independent practice and application: Students apply the learning on their own.
5. Assessment: The teacher measures how well students have met the objectives. (Gonzalez, 2018)

Call to Action

While we at Butterfly Fields do not set learning objectives, we do set ourselves goals and objectives to achieve. In the process we have accumulated a great deal of savvy and knowledge on how to go about targeting and achieving your goals and objectives, and what to do if they are not being met satisfactorily. Hence, you would definitely benefit by letting us share our experiences and wisdom with you on this front. Please get in touch with us to get this going and alongside we could also give you a demonstration of what else we can help you with in your quest to become a top-notch school.

References

Eberly Center. (n.d.). Design & Teach a Course. Retrieved March 9, 2020, from Carnegie Mellon University: https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/design/learningobjectives.html
Gonzalez, J. (2018, November 4). To Learn, Students Need to DO Something. Retrieved March 9, 2020, from Cult of Pedagogy: https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/do-something/
The Center for Faculty Development. (2007). Assessment & Instructional Alignment. Retrieved March 9, 2020, from University of Colorado-Denver: http://www.ucdenver.edu/faculty_staff/faculty/center-for-faculty-development/Documents/tutorials/Assessment/index.htm

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