Author Archives: Leah Schanke

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Writing Better Learning Objectives

When I attended the Zicklin Business School Summer Teaching Seminar in 2007 (and again this year), the first thing I noticed was that the terms “learning goals” and “learning objectives” are used interchangeably. This seems to be the case throughout much of the College. From my training and experience in strategic management and following the approaches of Robert Mager, the behavioral psychologist known for his books on instructional design – to me, goals and objectives are two different things, although connected. I strongly believe that to write better learning objectives, we need to define these terms and use them more precisely and consistently across the Baruch College community.

A well-written goal simply states an outcome or end result to be achieved. In other words, where do we want to go? While goals should be specific, they are often phrased in broader terms that need to be operationally defined (called “fuzzies” by Robert Mager). Now that we know where we want to go, how do we get there? This is where objectives come in. They should be specific and measurable and state what must be done to achieve the goal. In the case of learning objectives, they should be phrased from students’ perspective, not teachers’.

From an instructional design perspective, learning objectives have three purposes:

  • Serve as a guide in designing a course
  • Communicate to students what they are expected to achieve
  • Assist in evaluating instruction

I found a good article summarizing Robert Mager’s approach to writing learning objectives: “How to Write Great Learning Objectives.” I don’t adhere to Robert Mager’s approach as a strict formula to follow, especially when it comes to less tangible subjects – instead I use his approach as a guideline in writing more specific and therefore clearer learning objectives. I have found his approach in writing learning objectives very useful in guiding and improving instruction. The place for us to start, though, is clearly defining learning goals and objectives and using these terms consistently.

Posted in Assessing Learning, Learning Goals and Objectives | 4 Comments