Learning Objectives

Learning objectives are the foundation of every course, as they determine content, presentation, in-class activities, assignments, and assessment. Well written learning objectives clarify for students what they should be getting from the course. Ideally, learning objectives for each class meeting will map to larger objectives for the course, which then map to larger competencies for the program as a whole. Learning objectives should reflect exactly what the student should achieve. This requires use of verbs that accurately define how a student will demonstrate that they have met the learning objective. Oftentimes, we defer to Bloom's Taxonomy, a series of steps of student learning that progress from knowledge to understanding, then application, analysis, evaluation, and finally creation. Others prefer Fink's Taxonomy of Significant Learning Experiences, which include foundational knowledge, application, integration, the human dimension, caring, and learning how to learn. These taxonomies and how they relate to learning objectives are described here: Effective Use of Learning Objectives

Here is an example: I wish students to learn the skill of reading vaginal cytology slides. This is a skill that I want them to demonstrate and that requires them to be at the level of analysis and evaluation. A learning objective might be - At the conclusion of this course, the student will be able to interpret vaginal cytology specimens for extent of cornification of vaginal epithelial cells and presence or absence of inflammation. This learning objective makes clear to the students what kind of detail I expect from them as they learn this skill and makes clear to me what kind of activities I need to provide to give students a chance to learn the skill and to demonstrate their learning. A second example might be my desire to make sure students understand the pathogenesis, diagnosis, and management of pyometra. I wish them to demonstrate understanding, so this is more at the level of application; I don't want them just to be able to repeat facts about pyometra, I want them to be able to use those facts. A learning objective might be - At the conclusion of this course, the student will be able to diagnose and manage uncomplicated cases of canine pyometra. If I want them to be able to diagnose pyometra, this requires my assessment to be at a higher level than multiple-choice questions of fact. The learning objectives leads me to case-based questions for assessment.

Here are a list of verbs used to help you create learning objectives that best define where you see students achieving a competency for a given topic using Bloom's taxonomy. Ronald M. Hardens' "Learning outcomes and instructional objectives: Is there a difference?" and Marcy H.Towns' "Developing Learning Objectives and Assessment Plans at a Variety of Institutions: Examples and Case Studies" are two manuscripts describing creation and use of learning objectives.