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Writing clear learning objectives and communicating them effectively with learners is what every instructional designer should know when designing and developing elearning courses.

Writing objectives is the third step in instructional design process in Dick and Carey’s systematic model. Once you have identified your instructional goals, conducted instructional analysis, and analysed learners and contexts, you should start writing a list of objectives based on the relevant steps, sub steps, and subordinate skills from instructional analysis. Clear objectives not only inform your learners of what to expect, but helps you to create assessment items that effectively measure how well your learners have learned what you expect them to learn. Align learning/ performance objective, assessment items, instructional strategies, and instructional materials to make sure your learning unit will achieve its ultimate goal and will successfully improve the performers’ behaviour.

What is a Learning/ Performance Objective?

Learning objectives are also referred to as performance objectives, instructional objectives, and behavioural objectives. According to Dick and Carey (2015), a performance objective is a detailed description of what students will be able to do when they complete a unit of instruction. A learning objective has two main functions and three components (Mager, 1997).

Learning Objectives Functions

  • They can be used in writing assessment items
  • They are used to communicate what may be learned from the materials

Learning Objectives Components (Mager, 1997)

  • Behaviour
  • Condition
  • Criteria

Behaviour

The behaviour component is a description of the behaviour (skill/ knowledge) that learners are expected to perform. It includes actions, content, and concepts and should be measurable and observable.

Good examples of behaviour component:

  • Write the definition of performance objective.
  • Select the most precise definition of a performance objective.
  • List different functions of a performance objective.

As you can see the verbs used in these examples describe observable actions.

Poor examples of behaviour component:

  • Learn the components of a performance objective.
  • Understand the importance of including a performance objective in your courses.

The verbs used in these examples represent states and unobservable behaviour and therefore are not good examples.

Condition

Condition refers to the description of the circumstances and resources that will be available to learners when they perform the desired behaviour. Conditions have four purposes in an objective:

  • Describing a cue that the learners can use to search the information in the memory.

e.g. Given a list of states, name the state capitals.

  • Specifying resource materials required to carry out a given task.

e.g. Given the base and height of a series of triangles, compute the area of triangles.

  • Controlling the complexity of the task according to the learners’ abilities.

e.g. Given written descriptions of questions posed by customers, respond to customer questions in writing.

  • Enhancing the transfer of knowledge or skills from the instructional setting to the performance setting by specifying the most real-world contexts.

e.g. Given access to the Internet and library resources, describe the primary causes of the Civil War.

Criteria

The final part of the objective is the criteria for acceptance of a performance as sufficient.

IMPORTANT:

According to Dick and Carey (2015), “specifying the number of times that learners are to perform a task (e.g., two out of three times or correctly 80% of the time) does not indicate the objective criterion…..It is a question of mastery. Criterion in the objective describes what behaviour will be acceptable OR the limits within which the behaviour must fall” (p.124).

Good example of a criterion:

  • Given the names of the planets in our solar system, ‘the students will correctly name the key features of the planets. An acceptable response will include accurate descriptions of the size and colour of each planet, the planet’s relative location, and the average temperature of the planet.’

This criterion includes a checklist for appropriate responses.

Poor example of a criterion:

  • Given the names of the planets in our solar system, ‘the student will correctly name 6 of the 9 features of the planets.’

Useful Tip

Use appropriate verbs according to Bloom’s Taxonomy to write performance/ learning objectives. When applying Bloom’s Taxonomy, pay extra attention to the level at which the learners will be performing the task to avoid writing poor objectives using terms such as ‘identify’ or ‘list’ when the real-world application is the focus. Learning objectives that focus too much on ‘How to’ rather than ‘action’ may not help the transfer of learning into the real world.

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