- emphasizing major points and reducing non-essential material, which simplifies note-taking
- organizing content material
- setting clear expectations of the students to help them study important information more efficiently,
- allowing them to anticipate test items and the faculty’s expectations for learning (when examination items mirror objectives)
Are learning objectives different for lecture-based classes than those for active-learning based classes?
A learning objective is a descriptive sentence for a session or program, written for faculty and students that details the specific, observable, and measurable learning outcomes, type of knowledge, and/or content to be gained. Objectives should be scaffolded, i.e. connected in a sequential and guiding manner. So, a Program Objective (higher level) breaks down into Course Objectives. Course objectives break down into Lesson Objectives (lower level).
A program objective overarches the program or section of the curriculum. These are normally set in the future tense and should be both a higher level type of learning and a higher level verb from Bloom’s Taxonomy.
A course objective supports a program objective, but focuses on one course within the program. These are more specific than program objectives, but less specific than Lesson objectives.
This particular type of learning objective outlines what the student should be able to do after completing a specific session within a course. Lesson Objectives should include how the student will know if he or she learned successfully. It should should reflect the type of learning outcome that the faculty desires. It is important to keep the concept of Program and Course Objectives in mind because Lesson Objectives will link back to them and provide the map for how the Program Objectives will be accomplished.
By the end of the Vasopressin session in the Endocrine course, the student should be able to list the features necessary for a diagnosis of SIADH.
This refers to the types of knowledge that the student should gain from the lesson. Identifying the learning outcome can help when writing lesson objectives. Outcomes can be classified into categories depending on the type of knowledge, skills, or attitudes that you want the learner to accomplish:
- Acquiring New Knowledge (knowing facts)
- Enhancing Cognitive Skills (knowing how)
- Developing Motor Skills (doing)
- Strengthening Problem Solving Ability (cognitive strategies/using facts)
- Changing Beliefs and Attitudes (rationale/connecting facts)
It is important to recognize that some of these categories build upon the others; a student may need to gain new knowledge before they can solve problems that require that knowledge.
Components of an Objective
Once you have identified the learning outcome and lesson content, you are ready to begin writing your objective. Robert Mager holds that objectives require four components to reach the needed level of specificity. These components are Audience, Behavior, Condition, and Degree (ABCD method). An objective always begins with a stem that says (in either future tense):
By the end of this course, the learner will be able to ACTIVE VERB CHOICE…
By the end of this course, the second year medical student will be able to list the features necessary for a diagnosis of SIADH after attending a lecture on Vasopressin by accurately reproducing the list from memory.
- Audience (Who) – The second year medical student taking Guts & Glands
- Behavior (Will do what) – will list the features necessary for a diagnosis of SIADH
- Condition (Associated factors) – after attending a lecture on Vasopressin
- Degree (Level of achievement) – by accurately reproducing the list from memory.
Other methods for writing objectives exist. David Kern’s book on medical education recommends the formula: Who, Will do, How much, Of what, By when?
By the end of the clerkship, each third-year medical student will be able to diagnose the conditions of hypertension, diabetes, angina, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hyperlipidemia, alcohol and drug abuse, smoking, and asymptomatic HIV infection as measured by acceptable scores on interim tests and the final exam.
- Who – Each third-year medical student
- Will do – will be able to diagnose
- How much – as measured by acceptable scores on interim tests and the final exam
- Of what – the conditions of hypertension, diabetes, angina, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hyperlipidemia, alcohol and drug abuse, smoking, and asymptomatic HIV infection
- By when – by the end of their internal medicine ambulatory clerkship.
This hierarchical list of cognitive verbs has divisions based on the desired learning outcome, and it can help when writing the “Behavior” or “Will do” section of a specific, observable and measurable objective. The Taxonomy includes 6 levels of cognition that represent increasing complexity: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation.
These can be further grouped into three escalating levels of understanding:
- Recall – Knowledge and Comprehension,
- Interpretation – Application and Analysis, and
- Problem-Solving – Synthesis and Evaluation. Some theories also include a final level of Creation. Additionally, the overlay between this hierarchy and the Learning Outcome categories is readily apparent.
action verbs that give a picture of what the learner will be able to do. Tough Verbs are used primarily in the Behavior or “Will do” portion of the objective.
“Understand” or “Know” are not tough verbs. If I started with the objective, “Know Mager’s 4 components of a good objective,” then I could improve this objective by using the word “List” instead of “Know.”
connecting objectives and activities in a sequential and guiding manner. As we saw in the Learning Outcomes example, this term references the need to build knowledge in a sequential way.
A student would need to be able to list the features necessary for a diagnosis of SIADH before he or she can apply that knowledge to create a differential diagnosis.
connecting the content you are teaching with how you are teaching it and assessing it. Faculty should be sure to align objectives with assessment and teaching strategy to ensure they are helping students succeed.
You want students to be able to list the features necessary for a diagnosis. In a later session they will practice applying that knowledge. In this case, an ungraded self-assessment question may be best to ensure they can produce the list. You might then have a graded exam question asking them to apply that knowledge, in order to grade them on the higher level learning outcome of Problem Solving.
- Writing Meaningful Learning Objectives (Ryan, 2014)
- Bloom’s Taxonomy in Action (J. Schlesinger, 2013)
- VCU School of Medicine Guidelines for Developing Effective Learning Objectives
- Strategies for Curriculum Design & Implementation (VCU SOM, 2012)
- Peer Feedback on Course Goals and Learning Objectives (VCU SOM, 2012)
- Jane Vella’s Concept of Learning Tasks Applied to Medical Education (VCU SOM, 2012)
- Developing Assessments to Enhance Student Learning and Provide Feedback (VCU SOM, 2012)
- Writing Strong Multiple Choice Questions (Constanzo)
- Learning Objectives for Medical Student Education (AAMC, January 1998)
- Creating Significant Learning Experiences (L. Dee Fink, May 2003)
- Mager’s Tips on Instructional Objectives (Mager, 1984)
- Writing Smart Goals – Excellent examples for how to write SMART goals (and objectives)
- Writing Effective Goals and Learning Objectives (Creighton University).
- Questions that matter: Using inquiry-guided faculty development to create an inquiry-guided learning curriculum (Cartsens & Howell, 2012)