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Developing Learning Objectives and Outcomes

Developing Learning Objectives and Outcomes

Author: Jody Waltman

This lesson explains how to develop learning objectives and outcomes.

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In this tutorial, we'll look at some best practices for developing learning targets, objectives, outcomes, and competencies. Let's get started.

Learning targets are the simplest and most specific type of learning goal. Each target expresses a single learning goal and is often written as an I can statement that outlines what students should know or be able to do. They are usually written at the lesson level.

To write a learning target, begin by selecting the objective that indicates what students will know or be able to do. Do not write targets that indicate what the teacher is going to do. Then use developmentally appropriate language to reword the objective so that students can both understand the objective and monitor their own progress.

Whenever possible, find or even create examples of what the students should know or be able to do. It's important that targets are measurable. You shouldn't write a learning target that cannot be measured.

Also, it's important to only display the current learning target. By not displaying targets that don't apply to the current lesson or unit, you're helping students to keep their focus on the most relevant learning targets.

Let's take a look at a few I can statements that don't quite meet the criteria and learn how to fix them. First, I can measure the length of an object twice, using units of different lengths for the two measurements. This I can statement is a little wordy. And it doesn't necessarily use student-friendly language at an appropriate level.

Rewriting this I can statement in developmentally appropriate language, we might come up with, I can use both inches and centimeters to find the length of an object. This specifies the skill for students using more approachable terminology.

How about this example? I can understand verbs. Well, the term understand is pretty vague. How can you measure whether or not a student understands something?

Let's rewrite this as a target that can be measured. I can identify the verb in a sentence.

Next, let's look at objectives. Objectives are generally more complex and contain multiple learning targets. They're written at the lesson level, and they describe the behaviors, actions, or skills that students should attain by the end of that lesson.

To write a learning objective, begin by identifying a measurable verb, such as one from Bloom's Taxonomy. Stay away from verbs that are not measurable, like know or understand. Then describe specifically what students will be able to do at the end of that lesson or unit of instruction. Don't describe what the teacher is going to do.

Be sure to include specific criteria for success. Don't be ambiguous when you're writing your learning objectives. Emphasize the priority content and skills, rather than focusing on surface content and skills.

Can you identify the potential problem with this statement? Students will understand the slope of a linear equation. It's written in the form of an objective, as it begins with the phrase, students will, but it does not use a measurable verb from Bloom's Taxonomy. Let's replace understand with be able to find the slope of a line. This is a skill that we can measure.

Here's another example. The teacher will demonstrate using a thesaurus to find synonyms. This objective focuses on the actions of the teacher rather than the actions of the students. Rewritten as a student-focused objective, it might read students will watch a demonstration of using a thesaurus to find synonyms.

While this is getting closer, there is still too much of a focus on the activity that is going to happen, instead of the skill that students will obtain. So let's try one more time. Students will use a thesaurus to find synonyms. This objective is student focused and describes precisely what the student will be able to do.

Let's look at one more objective. Students will identify events that lead up to war. While this objective does use an active verb from Bloom's Taxonomy, it's a little ambiguous. There are no specific criteria indicated for success. So this version of the objective is better. Students will identify at least three events that led up to the Civil War. A specific war is pinpointed, and the number of events that students need to identify is also specified.

Next, let's address outcomes. Outcomes are the most complex, and they span multiple objectives. Outcomes are usually written at the unit or course or class level. And they explain in broad terms how students might demonstrate mastery of the unit or course goals.

To write an outcome, begin by specifying what students will know or be able to do at the end of your unit or course. Remember, do not focus on what the teacher is going to do. Be sure to use observable and measurable criteria from Bloom's Taxonomy.

Instead of using vague language that is not measurable or observable, stick to knowledge and skills that you can observe and measure. For example, the statement, students will create a bar graph to represent data, is probably more of an objective than an outcome. This is one single skill that can be covered perhaps even in a single lesson.

Instead, the outcome might be students will use multiple representations to display, interpret, and analyze data. Creating a bar graph to represent that data would just be one objective on the way to that skill.

What about the potential outcome, students will know facts about inherited traits? Well, this outcome does not include observable and measurable criteria from Bloom's Taxonomy. We might choose to rewrite this outcome as students will identify inherited traits in various species and explain how these traits may influence survival of those species.

Finally, let's explore competencies. A competency is a concrete student ability that incorporates multiple skills. A competency should be written as a statement that outlines concrete, discrete, measurable skills and abilities. Both outcomes and objectives may contain competencies, since outcomes and objectives can both incorporate multiple components that indicate student capabilities.

To write a competency, begin by identifying a single, measurable ability of what a student should know or be able to do. You're not grouping or combining skills or knowledge here into broad objectives or outcomes. You're focusing on that one, single, measurable characteristic.

Be sure to incorporate measurable and observable verbs. Stay away from writing about actions that are not observable or measurable.

For example, students will use multiple methods to solve a system of linear equations. A red flag here is the word multiple. We're clearly not focusing on just one single skill here. This statement is asking students to use a variety of methods to solve a system of equations.

Instead a competency should zero in on just one of those skills. For example, students will solve a system of linear equations using substitution.

Here's one more competency that needs to be edited. Students will think about the effects of pollution. Unfortunately, thinking is not a measurable or even observable action. So we might rewrite this competency as students will explain the effects of pollution and make predictions about future impacts of pollution.

In this tutorial, you learned how to identify and write learning targets, objectives, outcomes, and competencies. So here's a chance for you to stop and reflect. Were you able to identify how each of the example statements needed to be modified in order to better fit the criteria?

As you reflect on how this new information can be applied, you may want to explore the additional resources section that accompanies this video presentation. This is where you'll find links to resources chosen to help you deepen your learning and explore ways to apply your newly acquired skill set. Thanks for joining me today. Have a great day.

Notes on "Developing Learning Objectives and Outcomes"

(00:00 - 00:11) Introduction

(00:12 - 02:06) Targets

(02:07 - 04:32) Objectives

(04:33 - 06:04) Outcomes

(06:05 - 07:42) Competencies

(07:43 - 07:52) Review

(07:53 - 08:20) Stop and Reflect

Additional Resources

Clear Learning Targets Guide

This comprehensive guide provides an overview of formative instructional practices to encourage student achievement. Included in this document is an easy to follow guide on setting learning goals and writing student friendly targets.