Learning objectives are used in courses to inform learners what they will be able to do at the end of instruction. Program accreditation usually uses the concepts of Bloom’s Taxonomy to determine whether or not learners are achieving course and program expected learning outcomes. If learning objectives, course activities, and assessments are properly aligned, then the learning outcome measurements (assessments) prove that. Course objectives are generally stated as follows:
You will be able to
- identify each state in the United States on the map
- associate the capital of each state in the United States
Notice that the verbs “identify,” and “associate” are things that can be observed and measured to determine levels of student achievement.
Bloom’s Taxonomy for Course Design
Bloom’s taxonomy provides a clear formula for thinking about writing course- and module-level learning objectives.
Well-written objectives informs students:
- what they should study and practice
- how they will be assessed
Well-written objectives guide the instructor:
- in assessment strategies
- in teaching strategies
Well-written objectives tell the instructor and accreditation agencies:
- if teaching strategies worked
- if assessment strategies worked
Bloom’s Levels of Learning
Benjamin Bloom published a study in the 1950s on student learning, and found that a large number of college students were not being prepared to think past memorization and shallow comprehension. The study proposed that stating learning objectives in specific ways could move student learning to higher levels.
Cognitive Domain for Bloom’s Taxonomy
This chart shows Bloom’s six levels for cognitive leaning. Knowledge, comprehension, and application are lower-order thinking skills. Analysis, synthesis, and evaluation are higher-order thinking skills.
The third column, “Related Behavior (Verbs),” suggests verbs we can use to state our learning objectives. Occasionally, there is overlap between categories and verbs.
||Related Behavior (Verbs)
||judging the value of material or methods as they might be applied in a particular situation; judging with the use of definite criteria
||accept, appraise, assess, arbitrate, award, choose, conclude, criticize, defend, evaluate, grade, judge, prioritize, recommend, referee, reject, select, support
||creating something new by putting parts of different ideas together to make a whole.
||blend, build, change, combine, compile, compose, conceive, create, design, formulate, generate, hypothesize, plan, predict, produce, reorder, revise, tell, write
||breaking something down into its parts; may focus on identification of parts or analysis of relationships between parts, or recognition of organizational principles
||analyze, compare, contrast, diagram, differentiate, dissect, distinguish, identify, illustrate, infer, outline, point out, select, separate, sort, subdivide
||using a general concept to solve problems in a particular situation; using learned material in new and concrete situations
||apply, adopt, collect, construct, demonstrate, discover, illustrate, interview, make use of, manipulate, relate, show, solve, use
||understanding something that has been communicated without necessarily relating it to anything else
||alter, account for, annotate, calculate, change, convert, group, explain, generalize, give examples, infer, interpret, paraphrase, predict, review, summarize, translate
||recalling or remembering something without necessarily understanding, using, or changing it
||define, describe, identify, label, list, match, memorize, point to, recall, select, state
How Does the Chart Work?
The verbs in the chart above are action verbs. They indicate what the student will do to demonstrate that learning has occurred. For example, if you want the student to think and perform at the “analysis” level, you would use one of the suggested verbs from that level. For example:
You will be able to
- Contrast democracy with oligarchy
To achieve the objective, the student will have to analyze the two political systems.
Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy
Bloom’s Taxonomy underwent a revision in 2000. See Anderson and Krathwohl’s Taxonomy 2000.
Designing Instruction and Assessments with Bloom’s Taxonomy
Now that we know how to write learning objectives using the taxonomy, we can use Bloom’s to target student products or write test questions at higher levels.
Idea of Alignment of Objectives, Class Activities, and Assessments
How do you know if a student has reached the learning objective? If we state that “the student will be able to do X,” how do we know if s/he achieved it? Whatever we state in the objective should be measured in the assessment, whether on test questions or student products. Furthermore, class activities should support the objectives and assessments.
- What if the class as a whole did not assess well, i.e., they did not achieve the expected learning outcome? What’s wrong?
- Things you might consider:
- If there is a problem, where is it? Were the instructions in the overview page not clear?
- Were the objective statements “measurable”
- Did the assessment strategies accurately measure objectives?
- Did the learning activities support objectives?
- Do you need to supply examples of student work to model what you expected?
- Were the checklists or other study guides not clear or present?
- Were rubrics too complicated or absent?
- Were the assignments not clear?
When the class assesses well, there is probably good alignment of objectives, class activities, and assessment. This is called “closing the loop.” Nota Bene: This is exactly what SACSCOC looks for when they are doing program evaluations.
There needs to be “coherence” between the objectives, teaching/learning strategies, and assessment outcomes. Think of it as a check-and-balance system to measure teaching and learning effectiveness.
Backward Design Concept
Though we have approached the idea of designing instruction by thinking about learning objectives and designing teaching/learning strategies and assessments to support them. Let’s think outside the box for a moment.
We should start our course design with the assessments in mind. Consider your objectives, design your assessments, and then design your teaching and learning strategies. If you don’t know where you’re going (assessment), how do you know how to get your students there (teaching strategies)?
Backward design proposes that we design instruction in this order:
- Identify and state the objectives
- Decide on assessment strategies and instruments
- Design teaching/learning strategies
- Initiate instruction/learning
- Compare student outcomes against expected learning outcomes (objectives)
- Determine if there is a gap between student outcomes and expected outcomes
- If there is a problem, determine where it is
If instructors have a clear picture of what constitutes acceptable evidence that learning has occurred, then it makes sense to start with assessment and work backward to build learning activities.
There is actually a whole lot more to the process of backward design, but this is enough to get you started. If you are interested in pursuing the concept deeper, look for information on the Internet for “backward design.” Wiggins and McTighe are the authors of the concept, and they have written a book on it called Understanding by Design.
Last updated: 11/8/2015