Introduction: learning objectives vs. learning goals
Identifying and establishing the learning objectives of a course can be tricky, whether this occurs after or prior to the creation of a syllabus.
There are multiple reasons behind the need to set such objectives in the modern-day education system; not only does this process pave a clear learning path for students, therefore ensuring a successful learning process, but it also facilitates the organization of effective activities, as well as the creation of appropriate assessment.
Besides, it helps the educators themselves in the evaluation of the success of a lesson or module by outlining the core requisites, which creates a measure of the extent to which students profited from the training.
So, what are the benefits of creating clear, engaging, and achievable learning objectives, and how should this strategy be implemented in modern teaching environments?
Let’s clarify some confusion: albeit inexistent at first sight, there is a significant difference between a learning objective and a learning goal.
The best strategy here is to think of an objective as a step towards achieving a learning goal. For instance, if the goal of our course is for students to attain fluency in the English language, in this case being the goal, they will have to reach the objective of developing the ability to hold everyday conversations before they go any further.
The ABC’s of creating learning objectives
The goal is to create straightforward, achievable learning objectives that will help you, the instructor, understand whether students fully assimilated the knowledge that was shared with them. To this end, the set aims should have certain specific characteristics, and they should have a cohesive structure.
It is recommended to make sure that the established objectives have the characteristics that make up the acronym SMART.
So, what does SMART stand for?
- Specific: The objectives must be clearly defined, and they must specify what learners should know or be able to do by the end of the course.
- Measurable: The criteria that are set by the objectives should directly measure the progress throughout the course.
- Attainable: The objectives should be feasible and realistic, and they should take into consideration the level of competence of the learners, as well as the diversity thereof, and the resources available for the training.
- Relevant: They must be appropriate for the students’ circumstances, that is, they should take into consideration factors, such as age, environment, or education pathway.
- Time-framed: They should specify the deadlines by which the students are expected to have attained each target aim.
Not only do the learning objectives need to possess certain pivotal features, but they should also follow a defined structure that will make them consistent, and therefore, more comprehensible.
As previously said, the aims need to be time-framed; and in order to communicate these constraints, clear time-related vocabulary should be used. Therefore, it is advised to use phrases, such as “by the end of the course” or “after a month” to set clear deadlines
Second, the learning objectives should always reference the target audience of the training; so, it is important to specify what types or groups of people the course is pertinent for, and what the learners can hope to achieve. The audience can be narrowed down by using specific terminology, such as “English teachers”, “mechanical engineers”, or “secondary school students”.
Finally, the learners need one or more points of reference that will help them understand that they reached a target aim. These should be presented in the form of behavioral changes rather than cognitive accomplishments, in order to make each achievement clearly noticeable by the student via self-reflection.
Master the art of setting learning objectives
Having explored the basics, it is time to dive into some practical tips and tricks that help bring learning objectives to perfection.
1. Keep them accessible
No matter how much students are dedicated to the subject that they are studying, or how far along they are in the process, they might lose interest if the objectives are too vague or complicated. Giving them a set of attainable objectives that they can pursue will keep the participants of any course engaged and eager to learn more.
And there could be no easier way to accomplish this than by using simple, everyday terminology, accompanied by tips, advice, and examples of good practice. Moreover, it is always a clever idea to be available for a consultation or a chat about each student’s progress to keep boosting their confidence.
2. Prioritize engagement
Though it might sound obvious, passive sentences, dry explanations, and walls of text are boring and should be avoided altogether, as they tend to diminish engagement, especially if dealing with young learners.
Therefore, the aim should be to capture the students’ attention by using actionable terminology, that is, words that are easily transformable into actions. So, instead of the usual “understand”, it is advised to use more specific verbs, such as “list”, “paraphrase”, or “explain”.
Technology should also be taken into account to activate the students’ full potential. Nowadays, young people are naturals in this domain, as they start using electronic devices in the early stages of their life. Their motivation will, therefore, increase significantly if the learning objectives accommodate the use of ICT.
3. Group learning objectives are as important
Just like each student is unique, so is every group of students. Thus, learning objectives should be adapted accordingly.
Once the students have mastered individual research on a topic tackled in class, it is important to encourage collaboration by setting group goals. This will give the learners the chance to develop crucial soft skills, such as communication and leadership skills, in addition to the raw knowledge provided by the course, in such a way that they are ready to step into their professional career.
Once again, the use of technology can bring an array of benefits: students can indulge in motivating discussions outside of the classroom thanks to online platforms and social media, as they have the power to make any activity more exciting.
4. Make it personal
Students feel more included if they are addressed directly. They are, therefore, more likely to make these goals their own and follow them diligently if personal pronouns are used in the learning objectives.
By making the objectives personal, it is also easier to give individual feedback, as each student reaches the established targets in their own time. Moreover, if the objectives are too general, the pupils might feel like they are being compared to others, which could potentially hinder their motivation to learn.
5. Adopt Bloom’s Taxonomy
Building learning objectives from the ground up is challenging. However, there are already existing models that might help with the process.
Bloom’s Taxonomy is a hierarchy of six cognitive achievements: remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create. A learner can reach these while acquiring new knowledge or skills.
An advantage of this model as a point of reference is that it provides a great deal of verbs describing perceivable behavior that one can use in order to specify cognitive achievements when designing learning objectives. Exhaustive lists of these can be easily found online, and besides giving tons of synonyms for the six cognitive achievements, they also help in the classification of the objectives from the simplest to the most complex, which suggests an order in which to address them.
What about online teaching?
With the massive paradigm shift that has been affecting education, society seems to have understood that online training is the future. It does, however, bring a considerable number of challenges connected with classroom and time management, and formal education is not the only field affected by the change, as corporate eLearning and life-long-learning platforms are also bound to evolve out of necessity.
This is exactly why educators ought to be particularly careful when creating and dealing with the learning objectives of their online course.
In fact, they should be really specific, and they must take into account all the shortcomings of remote learning, such as the differences in digital abilities of students and the recurrent unreliability of technology.
One crucial piece of advice when delivering courses online is to never stop communicating: it is important to address the learning objectives and goals directly through a live communication platform before even starting to teach. This way, the students or participants know exactly what the instructor expects of them, therefore, any misunderstanding is practically avoided.
Some of the most concrete advantages of writing precise and actionable learning objectives for an online course include, but are not limited to, streamline online student tracking, coaching, and evaluation, in addition to easier lesson planning and seamless shifts between individual and group learning.
Creating the learning objectives of a course does not have to be a nightmare. On the contrary, if they are designed according to certain models, the process can be quite effortless and straightforward.
In short, the aim is to develop objectives that are as transparent and realistic as possible, and that do not hinder the inclusivity of a class, be it face to face or virtual.
That being said, make sure to watch the video below to advance your skills even more, and happy teaching!
Sources: Guidelines4Training (Erasmus+ Partnership),2020-2022.