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Weekly Tip: Authentic Learning Objectives

Imagine: A student is at a job interview. Their interviewer asks them to discuss their experience in working on a team. The student simply responds, “I understand interpersonal relationships.”

We know that what the interviewer is really looking for is a detailed description of what the student can do and has done within the specific context of working and communicating with other people. While understanding a concept is good, being able to apply and demonstrate that understanding is even better!

The same goes for learning objectives–the goal of which is to articulate what it means when understanding is reached. So rather than “Demonstrate understanding of interpersonal relationships,” objectives for a lesson covering professional communication might be “Resolve team conflict using five principles of conflict management.” Another objective might be “Demonstrates an ability to work within a diverse environment with people from various backgrounds.” While both objectives relate to interpersonal relationships, the focus and end results are quite different. Specificity and measurability then, are key as understanding can be demonstrated in a multitude of ways.

Diagram: Box One - Demonstrate understanding of interpersonal relationships. Arrow pointing right, to Box Two - Resolve team conflict using five principles of conflict management.

In the same way the job candidate should be able to discuss their skills and how they’ve been demonstrated, learning objectives should clearly articulate what students should be able to do by the end of a lesson.

Writing Measurable Learning Objectives.

Tips & Considerations

The Basics for Creating or Revising Learning Objectives

Developing strong learning objectives can be tricky. Below are a few tips for creating strong objectives for your courses:

  • Narrow the scope of the content covered in a lesson. Often, if the scope is too broad, it can be difficult to develop focused objectives.
  • Ensure objectives are authentic and transferable to a larger context.
  • Describe what students will learn.
  • Specify what students will be able to do.
  • Indicate the knowledge, theories, or principles that will be used.
  • Ensure objectives are context-driven, actionable, and measurable.

Questions to Consider

Below are a few considerations when creating or revising learning objectives.

  • In what context might students demonstrate their knowledge outside of the classroom?
  • How do the class activities and assignments help students achieve the learning objectives?
  • Are the activities for the lesson authentic to what a student might experience outside of the classroom?
  • What are the most important concepts for students to master?
  • Conversely, what concepts are not critical, at this time, given the context and focus of the course? In other words, what concepts may be cluttering the course or overburdening students?

Students and Learning Objectives

Learning objectives prepare students to demonstrate mastery of the course goals. To ensure students understand what they’re doing and why they’re doing it:

  • Use consistent language in outcomes, assessments, and rubrics.
  • Discuss learning objectives with students frequently.
  • Reinforce the significance of learning objectives by making explicit connections between objectives and what students are being asked to do.

Additional Resources

Use the Learning Objectives Builder to develop learning objectives.

Stay tuned for our upcoming Weekly Tips on Backwards Design.

This series of videos and teaching tips is presented by Academic Outreach and Innovation (AOI). We invite you to join the conversation. Share your tips and ask questions through this blog. If you would like these posts to be sent directly to your email each week, subscribe to the listserv by emailing aoi.li@wsu.edu.

For more information or to schedule time with an instructional designer or emerging technologist, contact aoi.li@wsu.edu or request training on demand. You can also visit the Spark Faculty Innovation Studio in room 102 any time from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Thursday, during the academic year.