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Writing course objectives

The objectives of a course are similar to research goals or questions. Approach the course goals and objectives with the same mindset as you approach a research goal or question.

Just like research questions lead to research methodology and data analysis, course objectives should lead to teaching methods and student assessment strategies.  The course objectives also give students a road map for course contents, course expectations, and the evaluation of their knowledge and skills.  If students have that road map, they are more likely to learn (and, have fewer complaints about your course.)

Why are learning objectives important?

  • Students can see how the material is related to their educational goals or to any other goals they can recognize as being important
  • Your tests will correspond to the stated learning objectives (Once you have written your learning objectives, you have defined your assessment materials.)
  • Students know what to study and what they are expected to be able to do after the instruction
  • Your course is organized (With objectives, the topics fit together and have direction.)

In short, learning objectives communicate what the instructor is trying to teach; what the students are to be expected to be able to do; how their achievement will be measured; and what will be accepted as evidence that they have achieved the goals.

How do I create learning objectives?

Step One:  Determine where the course lies in the curriculum.
Your department chair or previous course instructors can help answer this question.

Step Two: Determine what knowledge or skills your students have from previous courses.
Your department chair or previous course instructors can help answer this question. You can also perform an assessment of their knowledge and skills on the first day of the class. If you use this pre-class assessment, you may have to change the course content.

Step Three:  Establish or Determine a Course Goal
The course goal is the overarching, global statement about the outcome of the course.  There can be more than one course goal, but often not more than two or three. Examples include:

  • Students will be able to correctly identify anatomical structures in the human body.
  • Students will learn common theories of learning and apply them to teaching preschool students.

Step Four:  Break down the course goal into subcomponents.
Ask yourself what the specific knowledge, skills, and attitudes you expect the students to have at the end of the course, based on the course goal and where the course appears in the curriculum.

Step Five: Rewrite these subcomponents into measurable units (aka learning objectives). These measurable units should contain the following criteria:
A = Audience.  Who will be completing the subcomponent?  In the case of your class, it is always the student, therefore most people leave audience out of the learning objective.
B = Behavior. What knowledge, skill or attitude do you expect the student to have? You can use Bloom’s taxonomy as a guide to determine the level of behavior.
Bloom's Taxonomy
C = Condition. Any special circumstances needed to complete the objective.

Examples:

Course goal: Students will be able to correctly identify anatomical structures in the human body.
Specific learning objectives:  At the completion of the course, students will be able to:

  1. Recall the attachments of the muscles of the arm.
  2. Identify the muscles of the arm on a model, picture, diagram, drawing, or specimen.

Course goal:  Students will learn common theories of learning and apply them to teaching preschool students.
Specific learning objectives:  At the completion of the course, students will be able to:

  1. Compare and contrast the learning theories of Vygotsky and Piaget.
  2. Design an appropriate playtime activity for three year olds using Piaget’s theory.

Need more?  Check these websites:

Watch Video: Writing Course Objectives Video File

 
 
Virginia Commonwealth University  |  Center for Teaching Excellence
Last updated: 06/20/2013
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