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Writing Learning Objectives


A learning objective is a statement which specifies in behavioral (measurable) terms what a learner will be able to do as a result of instruction. It describes the intended outcome of your instruction rather than a description or summary of your content. It is but one of several steps that should be followed when developing instruction. We will focus here on writing learning objectives but don't forget the others, they all must be done to insure positive learning outcomes.

There is nothing magical or difficult about writing good learning objectives, just think in the following terms:

Objectives can cover knowledge, skills as well as attitudes. An emphasis should always be placed on the students ability to integrate information to solve realistic problems as opposed to the acquisition of information alone.

As the developer of instruction, ask the following question before writing your objective, "What do I want the student to do to demonstrate that he or she has learned?"....then start writing.


Many faculty members already write acceptable objectives and should continue to use the techniques that work for them. For people who have not written objectives before, a mnemonic can be used to help them remember the components of a good learning objective; i.e., ABCD (Audience, Behavior, Condition, Degree). Experienced objectives writers may wish to scan the procedure below and reaffirm that their methods produce objectives which meet the ABCD criteria.

The ABCD mnemonic is simple but does need some clarification. The A stands for audience which should remind you that the focus is on the learner and not on you as the teacher; that is why you should ask yourself , "What do I want the student to do to demonstrate that he or she has learned?".

The B stands for behavior. The behavior is that of the learner, it is an outcome, and it must be measurable. Many people regard behavior as one entity i.e., the measurable behavior. However, more precisely the behavior consists of two parts, first the Action Verb and second the Content Reference.

The action verb specifies the behavioral action the student is expected to perform, e.g., define, compare, describe, contrast, list, recall etc.

The second part of Behavior is the content reference which specifies the specific subject content being treated. It is shown as the portion of the following objectives that are in bold type; in each case the content reference is preceded by the action verb.

While both the action verb and the content reference are necessary to specify the measurable student behavior, they are different aspects of that behavior. Thinking of behavior as being composed of two different things makes lists of potential action verbs more meaningful, therefore you are more likely to substitute several verbs for any given content reference before you come up with just exactly what you mean.

The C in ABCD stands for Conditions. Conditions specify the situation within which the expected behavior must occur. They are "givens "or constraints during learning or evaluation which the student is expected to employ to demonstrate their mastery of the learning objective e.g.,

The D in ABCD represents Degree . The degree or criterion specifies the minimum acceptable performance standard in terms of quality, quantity or time. It must be stated if less than perfect performance is acceptable, e.g.,

Usually five to ten objectives are necessary to adequately specify the content of one hour of instruction. Any statement like this is an over simplification but it at least gets you in the "ballpark". When providing a list of several objectives, it is best to prepare a lead-in sentence and then provide the objectives as a numbered list e.g.,

Upon completion of the lecture, laboratory and required reading the student will be able to:

1. Objective one
2. Objective two


Four Criteria for Completeness in Instructional Objectives

1. The specific performance required to demonstrate successful accomplishement of the instructional objective • (e.g., to write, to name, to compare and constrast, to debate, to decide, etc.)

2. The learning outcome or product by which successful accomplishment of the objective can be determined • (e.g., a statement, an essay, a poster, a journal entry, etc.)

3. The conditions under which the behavior is to be performed • (e.g., during a cooperative activity, after reading the story_______ )

4. The criterion or standard used to determine successful performance or achievement of the instructional objective • (e.g., correct to the nearest mile, four out of five correct, list three examples, state two differences, etc.)

Good Examples:

When given nine Styrofoam balls, each labeled to represent a planet, and a basketball on the table to represent the Sun (condition), the child (audience) will correctly place the Styrofoam balls in order as the planets are from the Sun (the measurable performance), with 80 percent accuracy (the criterion).

Given a map of the state of Indiana (condition), each student will be able to correctly (criteria) point (performance and outcome/product) to the Indiana state capital.

  After reading "Shh, We’re Writing the Constitution," (condition) each student will be able to develop (performance) a journal entry (product) that uses at least three sentences (criteria) to re-state the Preamble in their own words.  

Using actual diary entries as examples (conditions), students will be able to compose (performance) an historically accurate (criteria) diary entry (product) outlining a day in the life of the early pioneers  

Given a scrambled list of capital cities and states (condition), each student will match (performance) at least 8 out of 10 (criteria) state capitals with corresponding states (product/outcome).

Given the criteria to evaluate a website, the student will use the Internet and a search engine to locate and select, within 20 minutes, three good websites on a specified topic.

The student is to be able to complete a 100 item multiple choice exam on the subject of marine biology. The lower limit of acceptable performance will be 85 items answered correctly within an examination time of 90 minutes.