A learning objective is an explicit statement that clearly expresses what the participant will be able to do as a result of a learning event. It contains action verbs that are observable and measurable. It identifies what behaviors a participant must demonstrate in order to confirm the intended learning took place.
Some other names for learning objectives include:
- Learning outcomes
- Performance objectives
- Educational objectives
- Instructional objectives
Goals vs. Objectives
The terms “goals” and “objectives” are often used interchangeably when discussing learning outcomes. Although they do have similarities, at the core, they are different. The characteristic that distinguishes goals from objectives is the level of specificity.
Goals define the overall purpose of the learning in broad, general terms and do not provide specific guidance on how to achieve that purpose. Goals just describe what the participant will gain from the overall learning event. They are intended to help focus on the long-range big picture.
Learning objectives, on the other hand, are much more explicit than goals. Learning objectives are specific, observable, and measurable learning outcomes that describe what the learner will be able to do as a result of the learning activity. They are benchmarks by which to measure progress towards the achievement of the larger goal.
Example of a goal: “Increase awareness of the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.”
Example of a learning objective: “By the end of this session, participants will be able to list five ways they can reduce stress”.
Purposes of Learning Objectives
Learning objectives are essential for building a strong foundation for a learning event. Creating objectives should be one of the first steps an instructional designer does after the initial needs analysis.
Clearly defined objectives guide the design of instruction, delivery of instruction, and evaluation of learning.
Objectives are instrumental in the instructional planning stage for selecting appropriate content, instructional methods, learning activities, and assessment measures. They also help in the delivery by informing the participants of what is expected of them.
Objectives also provide participant with guidelines for assessing progress and setting priorities. By knowing where the learning is intend to go, it increases the chances of the learner will end up there.
Learning objectives also serve as the basis to evaluate and measure the effectiveness of the overall instruction and learning process. They help determine if the intended learning took place.
Components of Learning Objectives
Educational theorist Robert Mager created a framework for developing learning objectives. He constructed them around three main components:
Performance – Indicates what participants are expected to as a result of the learning activity
Conditions – Specifies under what conditions should the participants perform
Criteria – Identifies how well the participants have to perform to satisfy the requirements
Well-written Learning Objectives
Well-written learning objectives;
- are participant-centered
- have specific action verbs
- are observable and measurable
- Have appropriate assessment methods
- state desired performance criteria
Well-written learning objectives are written in terms of learning outcomes (i.e. what the participant will be able to do as a result of the session). The objective should be focused on participant learning, rather than instructor teaching.
Learning objectives are not about what information the instructors can provide, but rather what the audience can demonstrate at the completion of the activity. Hence, the objective often begins with a phrase similar to “By the end of this session, participants will be able to…”
The objective statements should also provide a clear picture of the expected outcome or performance as a result of the learning activity. Well-written learning objectives will include action verbs that are specific, concise, observable, and measurable.
Mager, R. F. (1997). Preparing Instructional Objectives (3rd ed.). Atlanta, Georgia: CEP Press.
Clark, D.R. (2004). Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Domains. www.nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/bloom.html.