Upon completion of this article, you will be able to consistently write measurable learning objectives for your online course.
Does that phrasing sound familiar to you? Have you ever noticed that many courses begin with a similar statement describing what the learner will be able to do upon completion?
Learning objectives serve many purposes within a course. During the design phase, they help the designer or instructor focus on the content that is most relevant and necessary to communicate the intended message. For the learners, the objectives are an indication of what they should expect to happen during instruction, what knowledge they will gain, and what action(s) they will be able to take. Well-written objectives are tied to assessment, so that instructors and learners alike have a clear definition of what success looks like based on the action(s) described in the objectives.
A common guide for writing learning objectives is Bloom’s Taxonomy, which is often represented as a pyramid depicting lower-level skills at the bottom, and higher-level, more cognitively-demanding skills at the top. Every step of the taxonomy is associated with verbs or “action words” that describe sample actions the learners can do to demonstrate mastery at that level. For example, a low-level action may be to summarize a process, whereas a higher-level action would be to formulate a unique hypothesis.
This model serves many purposes. First, it helps instructors and designers avoid common mistakes such as using words like “understand,” which can’t be measured. How would you know if your learners truly understand something? You may have to see them describe it, or perform a specific task to truly gauge their level of comprehension.
The verbs associated with Bloom’s Taxonomy correspond to clear, measurable actions, which clearly allow learners to demonstrate their mastery of the topic. A second purpose of the taxonomy is that it allows instructors and designers to assess how cognitively demanding their content (and likewise, their assessment) is. Using the taxonomy to ensure you are requiring some high-level skills and effort from your learners ensures they have truly mastered the topic, and is also likely to lead to higher retention.
A second model commonly used for writing learning objectives is the ABCD Model. This model asks that when writing learning objectives, you consider the intended audience (A), learners’ expected behavior (B), the condition under which behavior will be performed (C), and the expected degree of success (D).
Let’s revisit the objective for this article: upon completion of this article, you will be able to consistently write measurable learning objectives for your online course.
Now, let’s examine how this aligns to the components of the ABCD model:
See how this works? The elements don’t have to appear in ABCD order, but by including each of these components, you will write learning objectives that are concise and effective.
When you create an online course, you need to be mindful of what scope of actions is appropriate and attainable in your virtual setting. Course authoring tools allow for a wide range of meaningful interactivity beyond just asking your learners to passively click “Next” and scroll through text-based content.
Ask yourself, what do my learners need to do (by demonstrating or performing a task) to show their mastery of the topic? How can this be achieved in a virtual setting?
Learning objectives for eLearning may be the same as those used in traditional in-person courses, or you may find that online courses give you the opportunity to present your content in entirely new ways. For example, if small budgets or limited resources prevented medical students from performing tasks like procedures on live patients or cadavers during in-person classes, eLearning simulations allow for endless practice of every step of the procedure in a risk-free environment.
As with in-person instruction, active and cognitively-demanding tasks are more likely to be meaningful and memorable to learners. Hands-on simulations not only allow learners to demonstrate their abilities, but also allow them to gain confidence by practicing their new skills. When the content is guided by clear learning objectives describing what success looks like, both the instructors and learners alike are guided by the same goals.
The guides mentioned above (Bloom’s Taxonomy and the ABCD Model) still serve the same purpose in a virtual setting, but when creating online content you may find yourself writing your objectives with different verbs than what you used in your traditional classes. Virtual settings truly open the doors to possibilities that students may not have previously had, allowing learning to happen through action that can be taken anytime, and anywhere.