CTL video: articulating your desired learning
outcomes and backwards design
Course learning objectives are specific, measurable outcomes that you expect successful learners to achieve by the end of a course. They describe ascertainable competencies, attitudes, and knowledge that your students can expect to gain.
For instructors, articulating the course learning objectives helps clarify expectations and guides the development of a course. The practice of referring to learning objectives while creating lectures, assignments, and assessments keeps these all of these teaching components conceptually aligned.
For students, learning objectives describe exactly what to expect from a course and provide a rationale for the work they’re asked to do.
To write learning objectives that work for you, try this exercise:
Make a list of knowledge, skills, or competencies you wish students to gain from taking your course. Try to keep the ideas on your list specific, observable, and measurable as well as aligned with your department’s expectations for the course. Start with a stem sentence that begins:
and then supply a specific verb, such as explain, list, describe, demonstrate, calculate, order, design, report, compare or analyze. Consider the level of achievement you expect for each item on the list, and whether students will be expected to achieve it with or without aids (e.g. dictionary, reference guide, etc.).
The outcomes you describe should be concrete and appropriate for the level of the course. A few examples are, “describe concepts of…,” “apply formulas to…,” “evaluate arguments for…” or “assess validity of experimental designs.”
Action verbs derived from Bloom’s Taxonomy
Try using your learning objectives to guide your teaching, checking back to them continuously. As you plan and teach your course, ask yourself for each new element:
- Does this course content (or activity, practice, assessment, or feedback) support one or more specific learning objective? Then reverse the question when reading through the objectives: Is this objective being supported through specific course content, etc.?
- Is this objective being evaluated at the point in the course where students are expected to have achieved it? Prior to that?
- Are students made aware of how each element of their coursework relates to their achievement of a course objective?