Formulating learning objectives

Posted by @NatasaBrouwer on March 9, 2014, 8:31 p.m.

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In the Model of Analysis of Teaching and Learning (van Gelder, 1070) teaching is considered a purposeful activity in which one aims to achieve certain objectives.

Learning objectives should be formulated explicit in such a way that they are measurable, that is to say that they are given in the form of concrete, observable actions of students. They indicate precisely:
-    which concepts and skills are addressed;
-    which activity students must be able to carry out;
-    under what conditions this behavior must be produced;
-    what the acceptable level of performance is.

A selection of examples:
Not good:  Students must be able to apply the Lambert-Beer Law.
Good:   Using a given wavelength, absorption coefficient, and the absorption, students must be able to calculate the concentration of a solution using the Lambert-Beer Law.

Not good:   Students have insight on the use of the calibration line method of spectrophotometry.
Good:   Students can determine a calibration line from measured absorptions of standard solutions (solutions of standard concentrations), and with the help of this, determine the concentration of an unknown.

Not good:    Students must understand what homeostasis is.
Good:   Students must be able to discuss the effect which the removal of a woman's ovaries has on hormone production by her pituitary gland.

It is important to realize that all kinds of unexplained hidden aims play a role. Examples of this are: learning to reason abstractly, learning to plan, getting a sense of the order of magnitude of a quantity. Although it should not be overlooked that these hidden aims play a role in teaching, it seems to have a positive effect when as many aims as possible are made explicit for students.

Bloom (1956, revised taxonomy Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001) has categorized learning objectives in three different domains; each domain is subdivided into different categories according to their complexity. The domains are:

A. Cognitive domain
The aims in this domain have to do with thinking and reasoning. For example with learning to reproduce facts, solve problems, acquire insight, explain concepts, analyze and interpret data, write an essay, and so on.

B. Psychomotor domain
This domain addresses so-called skills which relate to motion. In the sciences most motor skills are learned in practical work that is by using apparatus, working with instruments, and setting up experiments.
Apart from this, motor skills are always related to thinking and therefore to the cognitive domain. You cannot use a piece of apparatus even once if you know nothing about how it works and the function of its different parts.

C. Affective domain
This has to do with attitudes or feelings, such as enthusiasm, motivation, working safely and accurately; it also includes feelings about careful treatment of nature and the environment. Also the so-called scientific attitudes fit into this domain. Scientific attitudes concern the tendency to follow scientific conventions, to report data honestly, and to be open to criticism and alternative interpretations.

A fourth domain is often added:

D. Social domain
This concerns social skills such as being able to work together productively.

Though it is indisputable that the affective and social domains are important, especially in practical (laboratory) work and research based learning, they are often not explicitly formulated in educational objectives. Also there is seldom a systematic treatment of such affective and social skills in education, and there is seldom an assessment of them.

Further reading

  • Gelder, L. van (Ed.) (1970). Didactische Analyse. Wolters-Noordhoff, Groningen.
  • Anderson & Krathwohl (2001). A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York: Longman.

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