How to Write Learning Objectives for Online Courses

Learn how to write clear and impactful learning objectives for online courses. Set expectations, communicate the course's purpose, and align with instructional goals to empower learners.
how to write learning objectives

Learning objectives serve as the foundation of effective online course design. They provide clarity and direction, guiding instructors and learners throughout the learning journey. In this post, I share some tips on writing learning objectives for online courses. Whether you’re an online educator with existing courses or just starting out, these practical tips will help you improve communicating your learning outcomes. Let’s craft clear, measurable, and impactful learning objectives that enhance the learning experience.

Before we dive in, let’s explain what learning objectives are and why they are important.

What are learning objectives?

Learning objectives are distinct from much broader Learning Goals. Objectives are much more specific and provide clear criteria for instructors to assess whether students meet the desired learning goals. Here is an example of how learning goals and learning outcomes relate to each other:

  • Learning goal (broad): ‘I want learners to know the lean methodology.’
  • Learning objective (specific): ‘Learners will be able to explain the lean methodology and implement it in their chosen project using all Lean tools discussed.”

Communicating learning objectives is crucial in online courses. They set expectations, communicate the course’s purpose, and align with overall instructional goals. Well-defined learning objectives empower learners and can enhance their motivation and engagement. Learning Objectives are also a starting point in your marketing communication. These statements describe the result or a change that you promise to deliver.

How to write learning objectives?

1. Start with the end result in mind

The first step in the course design process is to determine the purposes and goals of the training. Start with a clear understanding of where you want your learners will end up, what they will achieve, and what your training will change. Once you know the destination, it is easier to determine how to assess it (i.e. how will you know if your students got there?) and what to include in the training programme (i.e. what you can do to help them get there).

2. Use action verbs

Choose action verbs that clearly communicate the intended learner outcomes. Strong verbs such as “analyze,” “evaluate,” “create,” or “apply” convey specific actions that learners should be able to demonstrate. Avoid vague or ambiguous verbs that may lead to confusion.

3. Be specific and measurable (use SMART model)

Write learning objectives that are clear, specific, and measurable. Specify the knowledge, skills, or competencies learners will acquire. Ensure that the objectives are observable and you can determine the degree of learning achieved.

The SMART model is often used to help write effective learning outcomes

The following questions will help you determine whether you have written an effective learning outcome:

Specific

Is the outcome specific?

Measurable

Is the outcome measurable or observable?

Aligned

Is the outcome aligned with the broader outcomes of the course/program?

Realistic

Is the outcome realistic and achievable for students?

 Timebound

Is the outcome time bound–does it identify a clear timeframe for achievement (e.g., by the end of this course, students will be able to…)?

4. Align with Bloom’s Taxonomy

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a hierarchical framework for categorizing educational objectives. Use it to guide your writing process. Consider the cognitive levels of learning, ranging from remembering and understanding to applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. Aligning your learning objectives with these levels helps you create a well-rounded and progressive learning experience.

Bloom's Taxonomy Levels infographic

You can read more about using learning levels and active verbs etc, in the series of posts about Bloom’s Taxonomy.

5. Incorporate relevant assessment criteria

Design assessments that align with the learning objectives. Consider how you will evaluate learners’ mastery of the objectives – will you use quizzes, assignments, projects, or peer assessments? Linking assessments to the learning objectives ensures a cohesive learning experience.

6. Consider the course format and delivery.

Take into account the unique characteristics of your online training. You need to consider how the course content will be delivered (through videos, interactive modules, discussions, or self-paced activities) and ensure that the objectives and assessment methods align with the course format.

7. Review and Refine

Regularly review and refine your learning objectives to ensure they remain relevant and aligned with the course content and instructional goals. Gather feedback from learners and colleagues, and make necessary adjustments to enhance clarity and effectiveness.

Writing clear learning objectives and communicating them is essential. I hope that these tips will help you create clear, measurable, and learner-focused objectives that drive the learning experience. Remember, well-defined objectives not only guide learners but also empower instructors to design meaningful assessments and deliver transformative online learning experiences.

References:

  • Anderson, L.W., & Krathwohl, D.R. (Eds.) (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives. New York: Longman
  • Cornell University, Learning Outcome Review Checklist
  • Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Note, that this post provides general information about Write Learning objectives.

It is important always to consider the specific context and requirements of your learning projects. If you have any questions or would like to delve deeper into the topic, please email me or book a free online consultation via my contact page.

planning - Design - developing

Make sure to check out my other posts related to planning online courses, designing and developing learning content and delivering training. I share strategies and tools that you can use and many practical tips. 

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