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The ‘right’way to write learning goals and objectives

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1 The ‘right’way to write learning goals and objectives
Ruth A. Gyure, for Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching Western CT State University February 12, 2013

2 TODAY’S WORKSHOP WILL Teach you to distinguish goals from objectives
Help you learn how to write effective goals, objectives, and performance criteria. Make sure you understand how to match competencies to learning objectives. Answer all your questions about learning goals and objectives, in practical terms. Goals and objectives do NOT reflect what the teacher, program or course will do. They should reflect what the LEARNER OR PARTICIPANT will be able to do or what they will know.

Compare and contrast learning objectives vs. learning goals. • List at least three characteristics of a well-written learning objective. • Write learning objectives that contain measurable verbs and communicate clearly. • Develop learning objectives that demonstrate Bloom’s higher levels of thinking. Develop effective assessment strategies to measure outcomes and competencies.



6 A DESIRED OUTCOME (not an activity)
What is a GOAL? Characteristics of goals? Does this definition differ when developing university goals, programmatic goals, course goals? Broad, long term A DESIRED OUTCOME (not an activity) Should reflect the direction of the institution

A statement that describes in broad terms what the learner or participant will gain from the instructional experience or program. OR a desired outcome of the Program. Examples: Students in the Course will gain an appreciation for the role of the Clinical Laboratory Technologist in the health care system. Participants in the Workshop will become familiar with multiple approaches and models for measuring microbial diversity. All graduates of the Program will pass the AACP Certification Examination and successfully be employed as medical technologists. The University will achieve a minimum retention rate of 75% annually. The terms “goals” and “objectives” are sometimes used interchangeably. This is wrong. They are different. Goals are broad and sometimes difficulty to directly measure. The important thing about goals is that they help us focus on the big and important picture. I am sure that everyone in family medicine would agree that the goal stated on the slide above is important and something we want the students to gain. From this goal one could write a set of related and specific learning objectives. THE QUESTION NATURALLY ARISES…HOW WILL THE GOALS BE ACHIEVED???

OBJECTIVES - Definition: A statement in specific and measurable terms that describes what the learner will know or be able to do as a result of engaging in a learning activity. Example, in Introduction to Medical Technology : “Students will list three characteristics that make the Clinical Laboratory Technologist distinctive from other specialists in the health care system.” A learning objective or behavioral objective, if you prefer, is much more specific than a goal. According to Mager, the ideal learning objective has 3 parts: 1. A measurable verb 2. The important condition (if any) under which the performance is to occur and 3. The criterion of acceptable performance. Frequently you will not see the criterion or the condition specified if they are obvious. However, sometimes the adding the condition(s) and/or the criterion add much clarity to a learning objective. THE WORD ‘MEASURABLE‘ IS VERY IMPORTANT. GOALS ARE GUIDEPOSTS BUT OBJECTIVES ARE THE TARGET OF YOUR ASSESSMENT PLAN.


10 Value and Purposes of Objectives:
Knowing where you intend to go increases the likelihood of ending up there. They guide the teacher, organizer, presenter in planning of instruction, delivery of instruction and evaluation of student/participant achievement. They guides the learner, helping her/him focus and set priorities. They allow for analysis in terms of the levels of teaching and learning. Additional purposes of objectives include: •Shows colleagues and students what we value. •Guide for the learner relative to self-assessment. •Basis for analyzing the level of cognitive thinking we are expecting from the learner. •Makes teaching more focused and organized. •Provides models so that the students can write their own objectives and thus helps develop an important life long learning skill; “the setting of objectives.”

11 Effective Learning Objectives Are:
• Consistent with the goals of the curriculum • Clearly stated • Clearly measurable • Realistic and doable • Appropriate for the level of the learner • Worthy (Important stuff) Most objectives can be improved by systematically considering the three parts of an “ideal” objective according to Mager. So first look at the verb. In the objective above, the verb “demonstrate” is probably OK. It certainly implies that someone is going to have to observe the resident with a real or simulated patient as the resident responds. The observation could be done as the resident “demonstrates” in a role play situation. One could conclude that perhaps we need to clarify the context in which the resident will be demonstrating these empathic responses. So maybe we need to make this clear by giving what Mager would call the “conditions.” For this situation we will say the conditions are “with a simulated patient.” Another way we can add clarity is to specify what particular emphatic responses we are referring to and in what order these responses need to be made. So, in effect, these specific responses made in a certain sequence becomes the “criteria.” The improved objective can be seen on the next slide.

Name two major types of bacterial cell walls. Given a legal case description, determine three possible causes of action and identify which would be best recommended. Which of these two objectives requires more thought and effort relative to writing a test question? Which is easier to assess? Which of these is measuring student learning at a HIGHER LEVEL? . I’ll bet you knew the answers, and this partially explains why we see so many low level objectives and low level questions on student exams

13 Bloom’s Taxonomy – Knowledge – Comprehension – Application – Analysis – Synthesis – Evaluation

14 Knowledge Verbs (1st level) • Define • Memorize • List • Recall
• Repeat • Relate • Name Comprehension Verbs (2nd level) • Restate • Discuss • Describe • Identify • Locate • Report • Explain • Express • Recognize • Review Application Verbs (3rd level) • Translate • Interpret • Apply • Practice • Illustrate • Operate • Demonstrate • Dramatize • Sketch • Employ • Schedule • Use Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy has been around since the mid to late 50’s. His taxonomy of cognitive behavior provides a nice stair-step approach to thinking about levels of learning. The knowledge level refers to the level of memorization and regurgitation. Unfortunately, Research shows that this is the level at which a lot of medical school education is focused. For a more complete explanation of Bloom’s taxonomy visit the following site:

15 Analysis Verbs (4th level)
• Distinguish • Differentiate • Appraise • Analyze • Calculate • Criticize • Compare • Contrast • Examine • Test • Relate • Experiment Synthesis Verbs (5th level) • Compose • Plan • Propose • Design • Assemble • Create • Prepare • Formulate • Organize • Manage • Construct • Set-up Evaluation Verbs (6th level) • Judge • Appraise • Evaluate • Revise • Score • Select • Measure • Value • Estimate • Choose • Compute • Assess

16 Carnegie Mellow: Align Assessments with Objectives
Assessments should provide us, the instructors, and the students with evidence of how well the students have learned what we intend them to learn. What we want students to learn and be able to do should guide the choice and design of the assessment. There are two major reasons for aligning assessments with learning objectives. First, alignment increases the probability that we will provide students with the opportunities to learn and practice the knowledge and skills that will be required on the various assessments we design. Second, when assessments and objectives are aligned, “good grades” are more likely to translate into “good learning”. When objectives and assessments are misaligned, many students will focus their efforts on activities that will lead to good grades on assessments, rather than focusing their efforts on learning what we believe is important. There are many different types of activities that can be used to assess students’ proficiency on a given learning objective, and the same activity can be used to assess different objectives. To ensure more accurate assessment of student proficiencies, it is recommended that you use different kinds of activities so that students have multiple ways to practice and demonstrate their knowledge and skills. When deciding on what kind of assessment activities to use, it is helpful to keep in mind the following questions: What will the student’s work on the activity (multiple choice answers, essays, project, presentation, etc) tell me about their level of competence on the targeted learning objectives? How will my assessment of their work help guide students’ practice and improve the quality of their work? How will the assessment outcomes for the class guide my teaching practice?


POSSIBLE ERROR POTENTIAL SOLUTION Too broad or complex Maybe too many objectives covered in one statement Separate into more objectives stated more explicitly. No behavior to evaluate Using verbs like “comprehend” or “understand” lead to this issue Change the verbs in the objective to reflect what you want the student to do to demonstrate achievement of the objective. Vague assignment outcome. (What will be measured? Expectation for student?) The objective doesn’t state the behavior and conditions expected. Specify the assignment and associated expectations.

19 I am going to pass out a set of SAMPLE learning objectives from a variety of courses.
Pick ONE of the courses and identify two objectives you feel are poorly written, and suggest better wording. Glance over all of the examples: Which set of course objectives do you feel addresses higher-order learning goals the best? Which set of course objectives do you feel is written in a way that easily lends itself to assessment. In this set of learning objectives (B above) what would be an example of an assessment that would be appropriate?

Cognitive (knowing) • Psychomotor (doing) • Affective (feeling) (Statements of affective outcomes include: “show sensitivity to” … “accept responsibility for” …. “be willing to” ….. demonstrate commitment to”) There are really 3 domains or categories of learning objectives. In medical school the cognitive objectives are the ones that we normally think about. Psychomotor objectives are also stated but many times they are stated in vague terms and they could be made much clearer if the criterion were included as part of the objectives. However, we rarely see objectives in the affective domain. This does not mean we don’t value the affective domain. In fact some would argue that it is the most important domain. It is just that objectives in the affective domain are a little hard to write and they are really hard to measure and usually that measurement involves a lot of subjectivity.

21 The A.B.C.D. method (Heinich, et al., 1996) is helpful
Audience (A) – Who? Who are your learners? Behavior (B) – What? What do you expect them to be able to do? Condition (C) – How will the learning occur? What will the student be given or already be expected to know to accomplish the learning? Degree (D) – How much? How well? Total mastery (100%)? Ability to you respond correctly 80% of the time? etc. (Heinich, et al., 1996). Audience (A) – Who? Who are your learners? Behavior (B) – What? What do you expect them to be able to do? This should be an overt, observable behavior, even if the actual behavior is covert or mental in nature. If you can't see it, hear it, touch it, taste it, or smell it, you can't be sure your audience really learned it. Condition (C) – How? Under what circumstances or context will the learning occur? What will the student be given or already be expected to know to accomplish the learning? Degree (D) – How much? How much will be accomplished, how well will the behavior need to be performed, and to what level? Do you want total mastery (100%), do you want them to respond correctly 80% of the time, etc. A common (and totally non-scientific) setting is 80% of the time.


23 Tying Objectives to Assessment
Once you establish all the behaviors, conditions and degrees of mastery for each objective, you can use them to determine what types of assignments, tests or alternative assessment (e.g. a portfolio) you should use in the course.

24 If these three components are not congruent?
Learning Objectives Learning Evaluation Instructional Activities If these three components are congruent then teaching and learning is enhanced, hence, “The Magic Triangle.” If these three components are not congruent? 1. Students become discouraged and unhappy and make the assumption the objectives cannot be trusted and they will stop paying attention to them. Note: learning activities are those things the student does to learn and hopefully the learning activities are somewhat planned by the teacher. For example, listening to a lecture would be a learning activity; as would engaging in a small group discussion led by a facilitator; as would making rounds with a clinician, etc. Evaluation is usually thought of as the test but evaluation could also be an assignment that is graded such as a project. The important thing is that whatever form the evaluation takes, the evaluation should measure the student’s accomplishment of the learning objectives. 2. Meaningful assessment becomes more complicated, difficult, or impossible.

25 Instruction and Assessment match the Objectives
Mismatched Content and Assessment The first graphic below (Adapted from Dwyer 1991) shows a mismatch of the objectives, instruction and assessment. Instruction and Assessment match the Objectives

26 SUMMARY 1. Establish objectives based upon course goals and programmatic (curriculum) goals. 2. Make sure objectives are: Written with useful verbs that relate to the desired learning level (Bloom’s) Associated with activities (behaviors) included in the course Lend themselves to effective assessment that is included as a course assignment. Clear and understandable to the audience.

27 Highly recommended resources:
Carnegie Mellon Enhancing Education, a site with fantastic educational resources..from planning a course to assessing a program. DePaul Teaching Commons, a very comprehensive site for explanations and examples about learning goals and objectives. FLAG TOOLS Field-Tested Learning Assessment Guide for science, math and engineering instructors

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