1) The level of knowledge students need to acquire. Oftentimes, Bloom’s Taxonomy is referenced to assure the correct level of learning.
2) Identification of the knowledge students need to acquire.
3) Criteria that indicates how outcomes are observed and measured.
4) Action verbs that assure the appropriate level of assessment (e.g. “describe,” “identify,” or “create” are clear action verbs; whereas, “understand” or “analyze” are not very clear and difficult to measure).
In this post, I argue that student-centered learning objectives, written to account for higher order thinking, provide a strong framework upon which excellent classroom experiences can be built. In recent years, I have grown to view them as measurable targets of student growth and development, as well as serious goals for instruction. The research is not clear though on the correlation between learning objectives and student achievement. In a study by Balch and Springer (2015), they state student learning objectives are not viewed as a “valid measure for effective teaching.” This is logical given that professors are infrequently asked to assess their classroom achievement through the filter of their learning objectives. As stated earlier, this request tends to occur during periods of re-accreditation.
Another very recent European study by Kumpas-Lenk et al. (2018) shines an insightful perspective on the development of learning objectives in higher education. They surveyed over 1,300 college students and found that teachers only developed learning objectives within their course unit outlines (syllabi) that were consistent Bloom’s lowest four levels. These levels were remembering, understanding, applying, and analyzing. Bloom’s higher order thinking levels of evaluating and creating were not used at all. Moreover, surveys revealed that students’ degree of classroom motivation, satisfaction, and engagement increased with Bloom’s “higher levels of cognitive demand.” What’s the takeaway here? There is an incentive for teachers to construct learning objectives that are consistent with higher order thinking, which should have a “significant impact on students’ satisfaction, motivation, and engagement with their studies and achievement of the learning outcomes.”
As we write our learning objectives, we should consider what the ideal classroom experience looks like. How are students learning day-to-day? What are the tools (high tech or low tech) used in the learning process? What active engagement strategies and activities should be implemented throughout the semester that are consistent with higher order thinking? Answering these and other questions first, then revising your learning objectives is a strategy for pedagogical success. For example, if I want my classroom to be flipped for certain components of the lesson plan, then my learning objectives will contain more action verbs like “implement” or “create”. These verbs connote a very different experience than “understand” or “learn”.
Another area of focus should be the student. The research on writing effective learning objectives underscores the need for teachers to be student-centered. Sometimes we get hyper focused on our own teaching performance that the student orientation gets vague attention. We have to write learning objectives that strategically focus on the student and not the teacher. The best learning objectives describe the value students gain from the course and not necessarily what instructors are delivering. In an actively engaged classroom setting it is easy for teachers to self-orient the learning objectives, with an emphasis on the instructional output. Given the level of work we teachers put into creating the active environment - planning, testing, and updating our classroom activities - this is understandable. Student-oriented learning objectives, however, give us the opportunity to think appropriately about how our planned activities affect our students’ learning.
Balch, R. and Springer, M. (2015). “Performance pay, test scores, and student learning objective.” Economics of
Education Review 44, 114-125.
Kumpas-Lenk, K., Eisenschmidt, E., and Veispak, A. (2018). “Does the design of learning outcomes matter from
students’ perspective?” Students in Educational Evaluation 59, 179-186.