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How to Develop Clear Learning Objectives for Your Course

by Mark Ferrer

Learning objectives define the things students will be able to do upon successful completion of the course.

Writing a clear learning objective

Your Answer

1. Check with your Dept. Chair and/or Dean to find out if learning objectives have already been defined for the course. If so, use that list for this step. If objectives have not been established, answer for yourself the question, "What should students be able to do at the end of the course?"

By the end of the course you will be able to... 

2. Craft your statements or refine the institutional statements (if allowed) about what students should be able to do at the end of the course by using action verbs (“understand” and “know” are not action verbs; see the tables of verbs above for ideas).

Check for concreteness. Phrases like “develop appreciation” and “become aware,” refer to the internal state of the learner and need to be replaced with more concrete verbs indicating demonstrable achievement.

An often-used structure for learning objectives is Audience-Behavior-Condition-Degree—A-B-C-D—a mnemonic device to remember the things to include in a learning objective statement:

  • Identify the Audience: who is going to be doing the action? In your case, it will be the students, and your use of informal tone in your syllabus means you’ll say, “By the end of the course, you will be able to . . .”
  • Identify the Behavior students will exhibit as evidence of achievement of competency in the learning objective (e.g., “will set up a video camera and obtain a test pattern feed”).
  • Identify the Conditions under which students will operate as they demonstrate their achievement of the objective (e.g., “given ten minutes’ preparation time to prepare a 2-minute talk about a topic with which you are familiar”).
  • Identify the Degree to which students must perform in order to demonstrate competence (e.g., “with 70% accuracy”).

At http://edweb.sdsu.edu/courses/EDTEC540/objectives/Building.html you will find an enjoyable tutorial on the A-B-C-D approach to wording learning objectives. In keeping with our comments about the best tone for your syllabus, using “you” for the “Audience” section of A-B-C-D is the best choice.

Create your list of objectives now. If the learning objectives for the course have already been established by your institution, you still have the option of including a list of enabling objectives  in your syllabus. Write those now using the A-B-C-D approach.

Examples of action verbs:









Point out







3. Discuss your list with your colleagues, especially with faculty who teach or have taught the same course. Consider their feedback and adjust your list, if necessary.

An additional source of Information for completing this step Is http://www.utexas.edu/world/lecture, a web site where you can browse by subject through thousands of college syllabi posted to the web. Look at the learning objectives listed In those syllabi for courses similar to yours. (Caution: you will find notoriously non-learning-centered syllabi among the examples there. Use this opportunity to discern among the good, the bad, and the ugly.)

Adjusted, edited list

4. Include the list in your syllabus and begin planning the assessments that will indicate whether or not students will be able to do the things on the list. You may wish to skip to Lesson 8 to explore assessments.

Import the finished list into your syllabus

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