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Writing Learning Objectives

February 28, 2011

Last week a colleague asked me if could recommend any resources to help out with writing objective statements. I had to admit right from the start that I, too, could use a refresher.

The Basics

It may not be the most glamorous part of the design process, but it is oh so important to nail down before moving on. The learning objectives serve to clarify the purpose of the experience you are about to create. Key questions to consider as you get started:

  1. How should the learner be changed after completing the lesson?  Will they know something they didn’t know before, be able to do something they weren’t able to do before?
  2. How will you know the change has taken place? This leads to how learning can and will be assessed. (Good to start thinking about this now.)
  3. At what level are you writing these objectives? Objectives can be written on multiple levels – program, course, module, lesson – and should be connected. Have higher-level objectives already been written?
  4. Do performance standards already exist that might guide your work? Depending on the context of the learning experience you are creating, and the content topic (think medical training, teacher education, etc.) there may be professional organizations or regulating agencies that provide standards that need to be met.

All too often the writing of learning objectives is rushed or left out completely resulting in a product that is not effective as intended – failing to provide the learners with what they need to achieve that ‘change’ that was required and expected.

Who writes, reviews, and approves learning objectives? A Subject Matter Expert may provide the learning objectives or the Instructional Designer may draft for review. Ideally, this is a collaborative process – there is a lot to consider in terms of expected outcomes, content, delivery, and assessment.

A Few Resources

  • A Quick Guide to Writing Learning Objectives – Big Dog Little Dog – There are a lot of nice posts on this site. This one provides templates and examples.
  • Writing Learning Objectives – The eLearning Coach – Another favorite blog. This post is Part 1 of 3 in a series.
  • Guide to Writing Learning Objectives – NERC – A comprehensive document with writing prompts, and lots of good and bad examples from a professional organization/industry perspective.
  • Action Words – There are a lot of these lists available online. This one seems to be one of the more comprehensive versions out there and is organized according to Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Share your experiences!

What’s the most difficult part of writing learning objectives? Who on your team writes, reviews, and approves the learning objectives? What tips would you offer others asking for help?

Image credit: Mark Brannan, Flickr

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Cheryl McLean permalink
    March 15, 2011 12:00 pm

    Hello Melissa,

    Thanks for a very clear explanation and some great links!

    Below is a link to a verb list based on Bloom’s Taxonomy that also lists potential activities to match the verb. I have found it to be helpful in getting a SME thinking about how to implement the objective.

    ftp://ftp-fc.sc.egov.usda.gov/NEDC/isd/taxonomy.pdf

    • March 15, 2011 3:15 pm

      Hi Cheryl,
      I am glad this post was helpful! Thank you for taking the time to comment and for sharing this PDF with verbs and activities – this takes the explanation a step further and will be useful immediately.
      Thanks again,
      Melissa

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