Teaching & Learning

Goals and Objectives

Verbs used for writing objectives

Aligning goals for the course

Some instructors use surveys to determine what students' goals are for the course. It is often helpful to find out what students think they should be getting from the course and help align their goals with what the course will offer. This will help ensure that the course will better meet shared expectations and that any goals they have that will not be met will be identified early on in the course.

Learning objectives

Learning objectives can be specified for a degree program, a course, a module or even a subtopic. They help instructors precisely describe what students are to gain from instruction. Making them measurable guides instructors to accurately assess student accomplishment. Learning objectives address content mastery, critical thinking skills, and core learning skills. Every single objective may not contain all three components.

For the instructor, learning objectives drive the course if they are clearly defined at the beginning of the class and the materials follow the objectives. Assessments verify if objectives are met. If you are unsure what to write for your objectives, start with determining your final assessment - it may help you determine what and how you want your students to learn. In turn, you can then determine what to teach to enable the appropriate outcome.

For the student, stating clear objectives for the course and specifying what they should achieve after completion will provide them a way to evaluate their progress. Clearly defined and explained learning objectives enable the student to focus learning activities. Write in a straight-forward language and minimize the use of complex terms or jargon. Instructions to students on how to meet the learning objectives should be adequate and easy to understand.

Clear and complete instructions may take various forms, such as narratives, bulleted lists, and charts. They may appear at different levels within the course, such as module-based or weekly assignment sheets.

Examples include:

  • module-based or weekly learning objectives
  • formatted in narratives, bulleted lists, or charts
  • list steps required to meet objectives
  • indicates learning activities, resources, assignments, and assessments which support the learning objectives

The recently-revised MSU Code of Teaching Responsibility minimally requires instructors to inform their students at the beginning of the semester of the course content and instructional objectives, which must be consistent with the university-approved course description found in the MSU Descriptions of Courses catalog.

Here is a Quick Guide to Writing Learning Objectives.

Learning activities meet learning objectives

The instructional materials should support the stated learning objectives and have sufficient breadth and depth for the student to learn the subject. The learning activities should promote the achievement of any stated objectives and learning outcomes.

Learning activities can include class discussions, case studies, simulation exercises, practice quizzes, tests, etc. Choose activities that align with and support the learning objectives. Students should be able to reasonably achieve the learning objectives by completing these activities.

Examples of matches between activities and objectives.

  • The objective is to apply adjustment psychology to one's own circumstance. The activities include simulations and discussions of application. A multiple choice test from the facts of the text might be used.
  • The objective is to apply adjustment psychology to one's own circumstance. Activities might include time spent on lecture from text. A test might call for application of ideas to one's life.
  • The objective is to solve accounting problems. Activities would include solving simple problems and testing might call for solving complex problems.
  • The objective is to identify specific anatomical features useful for athletic trainers. Activities might include a teacher showing anatomical features well beyond what trainers need to know. Students might practice identifying some parts on each other. A test might be multiple choice distinguishing statements that are true about anatomy and labeling diagrams and applying their anatomy knowledge to injuries trainers might see.

Examples of mismatches between activities and objectives.

  • The objective requires students to be able to deliver a persuasive speech, but the activities in the course do not include practice of that skill.
  • The objective is "Prepare each budget within a master budget and explain their importance in the overall budgeting process." The students review information about this in their texts, observe budgets worked out by the instructor, and produce only one of the several budgets.

Assessment and learning objectives

Assessment is closely linked to learning objectives, which are tied to the instructor's philosophy of teaching and learning, and to teaching style. The types of assessments selected should measure the stated learning objectives and be consistent with course activities and resources. Assessments, learning objectives, and learning activities should be clearly aligned. Assessment strategies should use established ways to measure effective learning and assess student progress by reference to stated learning objectives. The assessment formats should provide a reasonable way to measure the stated learning objectives.

Behavioral learning objectives are written with a clear objective way to measure each objective. Cognitive learning objectives call for more subjective assessment, and constructivist learning objectives are the hardest to assess.

Examples of objective/assessment alignment.

  • The objective is to demonstrate critical thinking skills and the assessment is a problem analysis.
  • The objective is to test vocabulary knowledge and the assessment is multiple choice test.
  • The objective is to assess writing skills and the assessment is to write a composition.

Examples of inconsistency.

  • The objective is to be able to "write a persuasive essay" but the assessment is a multiple choice test.
  • The objective is to "demonstrate discipline-specific information literacy" and the assessment is a rubric-scored term paper, but students are not given any practice with information literacy skills on smaller assignments.

Matching objectives to learning styles

Learning is not directly observable. Learning objectives base on specific learning theories help define target learning goals. Here are three common theoretical approaches to learning objectives.

  • The behavioral approach to learning objectives is consistent with behavioral perspectives on learning and with teacher-centered teaching styles.
  • The cognitive approach to learning objectives is consistent with cognitive perspectives on learning and an emphasis on teaching and learning knowledge and concepts.
  • The constructivist approach to learning objectives is consisent with constructivism and situated learning frameworks and is more likely to accompany student-centered approaches to teaching.

Behavioral learning objectives

Behavioral objectives focus on identifying measurable, observable student behavior by specifying the following:

  • conditions under which behavior will be performed
  • the student behavior (using a verb to describe a measurable behavior)
  • acceptable level or criteria for success

For example, after reading this page, you should be able to accurately name and define three different kinds of learning objectives, 100% of the time.

Cognitive learning objectives

Cognitive learning objectives are broader and less measurable. They may better reflect the goals some professors have for their course. Assessment is more challenging with this approach. Bloom's (1956, 2001) taxonomy of cognition is often used to help generate cognitive objectives:

  • knowledge (remember and recall)
  • comprehension (understand)
  • application (use of concept in a new situation)
  • analysis (break something down into its parts, interpret)
  • synthesis (generate something new applying the ideas)
  • evaluation (make judgements about value, appropriateness, or other attributes)

For example, after reading this page, you should be able to identify the intended learning style of your course and write corresponding learning objectives. (application)

Constructivist learning objectives

The goals of a constructivist teacher are not to cover the curriculum, but instead to engage students as active learners constructing their own knowledge and beliefs within a content domain. Constructivist teachers start with very broad learning objectives and may even negotiate with the class to identify more specific learning goals. Constructivist teachers gather resources and set the stage to challenge learners to explore their existing beliefs, expose them to new ideas, and assign tasks which encourage learners to re-evaluate, re-define, and apply their emerging understandings. For example:

Our starting objectives are:

  • consider your personal history of learning experiences
  • explore and react to new theories and examples of teaching and learning
  • reconsider your original beliefs
  • form teams, plan, and develop a real world learning object for a client where the learning object is consistent with your new revised perspective on how technology can enhance learning
  • justify your design choices based on the principles you have learned