Designing Meaningful Learning Objectives That Foster Alignment Between Teaching Activities & Assessments
Today's students are learning in an environment of information overload. As a result, research finds that students' attention and focus are driven by the assessment measures rather than the educational goals of a course. While instructors often lament students' tendency to be grade-driven, the problem is not that students are focused on their grades. Instead, it is that instructors realize that grades (and the associated assessments) may not reflect the desired learning goals. It is essential that instructors first address this challenge by designing meaningful learning objectives that accurately reflect the desired educational goals. From this foundation, they can then align instructional activities and assessments to ensure that learning objectives are met.
In this webinar, participants will learn how to write actionable, student-centered learning objectives that define educational standards and foster alignment between teaching strategies, classroom activities, and learning assessments.
"If you don't know where you are going, how will you know when you get there?" While the source of this rhetorical question is debatable, the underlying message is clearly and increasingly relevant in teaching and learning. Before you design any instructional activities or assessments, it is essential that you have clear, measurable learning objectives. Learning objectives inform students of the educational standards and expectations while providing a foundation to ensure alignment between teaching strategies, classroom activities, and learning assessments. To ensure teaching is meaningful, it is essential that we know the goal of our instructional activities and, therefore, integrate assessments that measure students' mastery of these learning goals. Depending on our course goals, learning objectives may target cognitive, affective, and psychomotor skills or abilities. Most courses in higher education focus on the cognitive domain; thus, within this domain, it is essential to design learning objectives that clearly outline the level of understanding and/or skill desired. In this webinar, you will learn how to write meaningful learning objectives to guide teaching, learning, and assessment.
Effective learning objectives highlight expected student behavior as well as the specific conditions and standards of performance.
Behavior - Write learning objectives in terms of an observable, behavioral outcome; primarily, learning objectives should describe what the student will be able to do. When writing the objective in performance terminology, the selection of an active action verb is of utmost importance. The use of a precise, targeted verb provides directions about the expectations of student performance after instructional activities. Because the verb provides the desired guidance of emphasis, it is essential to choose a verb that is focused and targets a level of performance appropriate for the course.
Student-Centered - All learning objectives should focus on the student. A useful learning objective will explain expectations for student behavior, performance, or understanding to ensure that learning objectives are student-centered, a good objective should appropriately complete the statement "The student will..."
Conditions - Learning objectives should be specific and target one expectation or aspect of understanding and highlight the conditions under which the student is expected to perform the task. The requirements of the objective should communicate the situation, tools, references, or aids that will be provided for the student.
Standards - Each learning objective should be measurable and include the criteria for evaluating student performance. Generally, standards provide information to clarify to what extent a student must perform to be judged adequate; thus, practical learning objectives indicate a degree of accuracy, several correct responses, or some other type of measurable information. Standards serve the dual purpose of informing students of performance expectations and providing insight as to how the achievement of these expectations will be measured. Since students will utilize the standards to guide their performance, be sure to use specific terminology that has limited interpretations, and ensure that all students understand the same definition.
- Write actionable, student-centered learning objectives
- Differentiate learning goals between three domains of learning: cognitive, affective, and psychomotor
- Design learning objectives that target increasing levels of cognitive complexity: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation
- Identify strategies for aligning learning objectives with instructional activities, assessments, and rubrics
- Faculty (full-time and adjunct; campus and online)
- Online Learning course designers
- Instructional designers
- Any educator interested in learning more about developing learning objectives
“The concept of learning objectives is nothing new; publishers and instructional designers have been providing us with learning objectives for decades. The difference lies in our modern, information-overload world. Students and professors are buried in the content; so much so that it is hard to know what to focus on. Herein lies the increasing importance of learning objectives. Learning objectives provide a roadmap for learning… they give teaching and learning a clear direction with a specified path and a target that outlines learning success.”
B. Jean Mandernach, Ph.D. is Executive Director of the Center for Innovation in Research and Teaching at Grand Canyon University. Her research focuses on enhancing student learning in the online classroom through innovative instructional and assessment strategies. In addition, she has interests in the development of effective faculty evaluation models, perception of online degrees, and faculty workload considerations. Jean received her B.S. in comprehensive psychology from the University of Nebraska at Kearney, an M.S. in experimental psychology from Western Illinois University and Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.
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