Learning Objectives

In teaching and instruction, one hears about goals and objectives.  They appear on many syllabi. It is useful to know the distinction.

A Goal is a broad statement that provides general learning outcomes

  • Students will know how to use the catalog.

The problem with a statement like this, is how does one know that the students know how to use the catalog? How would one even begin to measure this?

This is where objectives come in.  Learning objectives are statements describing an observable event that shows the learner has mastered the knowledge or skill.  The objectives should specify the exact behavior one will see that provides a basis for deciding that knowledge has been mastered.

  • Students will retrieve a list of books in the library catalog.

How can you construct a learning objective that is measurable? Here are some suggested steps:

  1. Examine the module, chapter, or lesson
  2. What should the learner be able to do at the conclusion of the module or chapter or lesson?
  3. What specific, measurable activities would prove the learner has mastered the knowledge and skills?

Performance objectives have three components: Condition, Performance, Criterion.

Performance indicates the task to be accomplished, what the learner should be able to do.  Conditions describe the situation under which performance is to occur, as well as the tools that may be used to complete a task.  Criterion is defined as the quality and quantity of work expected and the time allowed to complete the job.

For example

Given a catalog record, learner will be able to identify the call number, circulation status, and the location of the book 100% of the time.

Condition: Given a catalog record

Performance: learner will be able to identify the call number, circulation status, and the location of the book

Criterion: 100% of the time

When considering the objective’s performance component, opt for action words that are open to fewer interpretations.  Examples include words such as  search, write, present, sort, file, etc.  Verbs such as know, understand, appreciate, believe, accept, handle, etc. are  “fuzzier;” and open to more interpretations; these types of words should be avoided.

Learning objectives may be difficult to do for the “one-shot” instruction class, but doing a few as a mental exercise may help narrow down the class content and serve as a bridge between the Analyze stage and the Design stage as shown in the previous blog post.  They can certainly be a good way to focus.

Further reading

Mager, Robert F.  Preparing Instructional Objectives, 2nd ed. Belmont, California, Fearon Publishers, Inc. 1975.


About Pamela J. Morgan

Librarian at Vanderbilt University Libraries
This entry was posted in Library Instruction and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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