Department of Medical Education

Learning Objectives

Deciding what students should learn is the first major step in instructional design. The goal is to come up with the skills and attitudes that we want the students to acquire. These skills and attitudes are called learning objectives. In order to create good learning objectives educators should be able to:

Distinguishing Between Learning Objectives and Learning Activities

Learning objectives are statements of skills and attitudes that we want students to acquire from instruction and to continue to possess over a period of time.

In contrast, learning activities are the learning experiences in which students participate for the purpose of acquiring these skills.

  • Learning Activity: Students will view the portion of the InterActive CD-ROM about the non-respiratory functions of the lung.
  • Learning Objective: Students will enumerate the four non-respiratory functions of the lung

Identifying Worthwhile Objectives

In many instructional situations, the instruction stops short of dealing with the most important objective for the content being taught. Students memorize important information but do not apply it appropriately. This may occur, for example, when students learn a definition but do not apply it to a number of examples.

A good way to determine whether an objective is worthwhile is to answer the following questions:

  • Is this a skill that the students will actually use in life?
  • If not, is this skill required in order to acquire another useful skill?
  • Non-Worthwhile Objective: Students will list drugs that treat asthma. (*)
  • Worthwhile Objective: Students will explain how drugs that treat asthma work.

(*) Notice that to "list drugs" becomes a worthwhile objective when viewed as a skill required in order to acquire another useful skill, in this case "to explain how drugs work."

Identifying Well-Written Objectives

Two elements of a learning objective are especially important in determining whether it is well written.

Well-written objectives describe:

  • The expected student performance itself
  • The conditions for assessing the performance

Well-written learning objectives leave no doubt about the nature of the performance expected from students after instruction. For this reason, an acceptable objective states what students will be able to DO, rather than what they will KNOW or how they will FEEL. Please refer to the Bloom's Taxonomy for "action" verbs.

In addition to describing what students will be able to do, a well-written objective states what information or materials, if any, students will be given when they are assessed on the objective. The information or materials given to the student are called the performance conditions.

  • Poorly-Written Objective: Students will understand how one can assess changes of respiratory physiology in a living patient.
  • Well-Written Objective: Given a case of an infant with bronchiolitis, the students will correctly assess the child's physiology and select the appropriate tests to support or confirm the assessment.

Bloom's Taxonomy

Bloom's Taxonomy is a hierarchical system which orders thinking skills from lower to higher, with the higher levels including all of the cognitive skills from the lower levels. The taxonomy provides a useful structure in which to categorize your instructional objectives.

Competence Skills Demonstrated
  • observation and recall of information
  • knowledge of major ideas
  • mastery of subject matter
Comprehension Verbs: list, define, tell, describe, identify, show, label, collect, examine, tabulate, quote, name
  • grasp meaning
  • translate knowledge into new context
  • interpret facts, compare, contrast
  • order, group, infer causes
  • predict consequences
Application Verbs: summarize, describe, interpret, contrast, predict, associate, distinguish, estimate, differentiate, discuss, extend
  • use information, methods, concepts, theories in new situations
  • solve problems using required skills or knowledge
Analysis Verbs: apply, demonstrate, calculate, complete, illustrate, show, solve, examine, modify, relate, change, classify, experiment, discover
  • seeing patterns
  • organization of parts
  • recognition of hidden meanings
  • identification of components
Synthesis Verbs: analyze, separate, order, explain, connect, classify, arrange, divide, compare, select, explain, infer
  • use old ideas to create new ones
  • generalize from given facts
  • relate knowledge from several areas
  • predict, draw conclusions
Evaluation Verbs: combine, integrate, modify, rearrange, substitute, plan, create, design, invent, what if?, compose, formulate, prepare, generalize, rewrite
  • compare and discriminate between ideas
  • assess value of theories, presentations
  • make choices based on reasoned argument
  • verify value of evidence
  • recognize subjectivity
  Verbs: assess, decide, rank, grade, test, measure, recommend, convince, select, judge, explain, discriminate, support, conclude, compare, summarize


Last edited on 05/25/2016.