What are learning objectives?

Learning objectives are short, written statements that describe the desired outcome of a learning event. Clear learning objectives accomplish two important goals:

  1. Ensure instructors are providing the correct information to fulfill learning goals for lessons and courses.
  2. Provide learners with a clear picture of what they are expected to learn in lessons and courses.

“Design with the end in mind.” It’s a quote often repeated in the world of instructional design, and rightfully so. When training has defined learning objectives, the information necessary to fulfill those objectives is clear. And when instructors have this level of clarity, mapping out a series of lessons becomes much easier.

When writing learning objectives, consider these four things:

  1. Audience – Who is this lesson for?
  2. Behavior – What skill or task would you like the learner to perform or improve?
  3. Condition – Under what conditions will the learning occur?
  4. Degree – What degree of mastery do you expect?

Answering these four questions will help you construct measurable learning objectives. This is critical because measurable objectives tell you whether or not the training is effective. When drafting your learning objectives, Bloom’s Taxonomy is a valuable resource.

Creating learner objectives

learning objectives with bloom's taxonomy
The Bloom’s Taxonomy pyramid moves from most basic at the bottom to most advanced at the top.

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a hierarchical classification of learning. From the bottom (most basic) of the pyramid to the top (most advanced), the six levels of learning build upon each other. For example, to Evaluate you must first be able to Remember, Understand, Apply, and Analyze.

Each of these levels is aligned with certain skills. If you want learners to simply remember something, have them define or describe it. If you expect learners to be able to create something, then have them compose or design something related to the topic.

The learning objective should match the level of learning to which you are teaching. Comprehensive courses will start with lower-level learning objectives and move into higher level learning objectives as learners gain knowledge about the task or process being taught.

Assessing learner objectives

To determine the performance of your content and the success of your learners, objectives must be measurable. You have to be able to test a learner’s ability to perform the action or behavior described in the objective. This is done by aligning learning objectives and learning assessments.

Create assessments after you have defined the four conditions mentioned previously: audience behavior, learning conditions, and degree of mastery. Use Bloom’s Taxonomy to articulate the desired outcomes into written objectives.

Let’s imagine we are training a group of call center agents on caller verification techniques. We want the agents to make sure they have the right person on the line before disclosing personal information. The purpose of this lesson is to teach (a) call center agents to (b) verify callers (c) that call into their queue (d) 100 percent of the time.

Our call center agents need to know how to verify a caller’s identity. The objective might sound something like:

  • At the end of this lesson, learners will be able to list the caller information that needs to be verified.

To align this to an assessment strategy, you want to test learners on their ability to recall the information. This can be a simple test, or a categorization exercise, or even an ordering exercise if there are multiple steps that must be handled in a specific order. A poorly aligned objective would be “explain how to enter the information into a system for verification.” Although these are related, they would be considered two different objectives with two different assessments.