What students should know and be able to do? Faculty should be ready and able to answer the question, "Why do I need to know this?!?" Learning objectives should represent measurable and/or observable behaviors -- think "more verbs and fewer nouns" -- for us to design around how people actively learn. As an instructional designer, you should ask yourself these questions when creating and reviewing objectives and outcomes:

  • Why would I want to learn this? 
  • Would I want to be in my own class all day learning this?

Often objectives can sometimes lean toward passive learning and convergent thinking, but learning is a divergent and active process. We can help to promote this by creating objectives that represent the activity of learning.

What is a Learning Objective

A learning objective is what learners will know, be able to do, or feel/value as a result of instruction. 

They should be:

  • Learner Focused
  • Future Oriented
  • Measurable

Based on the work of Robert Mager and behavioral learning, an objective is a collection of words, symbols, and/or pictures describing one of your important intents. An objective will communicate your intent to the degree you describe what the learner will be DOING when demonstrating achievement of the objective, the important conditions of the doing, and the criterion by which achievement will be judged.

Various scholars and researchers have summarized how to use Bloom's Taxonomy as a guide to writing measurable and effective learning outcomes. This is important when designing an online class, because without a clear idea of what you want your students to have mastered at the end of the class, it is difficult to design assessments and activities that will help your students achieve the intended outcome.

Arizona State University has prepared four steps to begin writing measurable and effective learning objectives:

  1. Identify the noun (or thing) you want students to learn.
    • Example: seven steps of the research process
  2. Identify the level of knowledge you want. In Bloom's Taxonomy, there are six levels of learning. It's important to choose the appropriate level of learning, because this directly influences the type of assessment you choose to measure your students' learning.
    • Example: demonstrate comprehension of the seven steps of the research process
  3. Select a verb that is observable to describe the behavior at the appropriate level of learning. A tool we use for choosing appropriate verbs corresponding to selected levels is the RadioJames Objectives Builder.
    • Example: describe these steps
    • Note: It is important that there is only one measurable verb in each objective. If an objective has two verbs (say, define and apply), what happens if a student can define, but not apply? Are they demonstrating mastery?
  4. Add additional criteria to indicate how or when the outcome will be observable to add context for the student.
    • Example: Describe the seven steps of the research process when writing a paper.
    • Note: Strive to keep all your learning objectives measurable, clear, and concise.

Once you have followed those steps to create a draft of your learning objective, continue to modify a draft until these questions are answered: 

  1. What do I want the learners/students to do? 
  2. What are the important conditions or constraints under which I want them to perform? 
  3. How well must students perform for me to be satisfied? 

When the main intent of an objective is covert, an indicator behavior through which the main intent can be detected is added. Indicator behaviors are always the simplest, most direct behaviors possible, and they are always something that every trainee already knows how to do well. 

To prepare an objective: 

  1. Write a statement that describes the main intent or performance expected of the student. 
  2. If the performance happens to be covert, add an indicator behavior through which the main intent can be detected. 
  3. Describe relevant or important conditions under which the performance is expected to occur. Add as much description as is needed to communicate the intent to others. 

The Qualities of Useful Learning Objectives

Performance of LearnerWhat should the learner do?
Conditions for PerformanceUnder what conditions do you want the learner to do it?
Criteria for Acceptable PerformanceHow well must it be done?

Handout based on R.F. Mager’s work for writing learning objectives.

Formula for Learning Objectives

Another useful model to look to is a formula for learning objectives. Fill in your ACTION VERB, your WHAT that you students will learn, and WHY that is important. 

Learners will be able to Action Verb What in order to Why

Bloom's Taxonomy and Measurable Action Verbs for Learning Objectives

  • Creating: compose, construct, create, design, develop, integrate, invent, make, manage, modify, prepare, propose, synthesize
  • Evaluating: assess, choose, convince, critique, decide, determine, defend, estimate, judge, justify, measure, predict, prioritize, prove, rate, recommend, select
  • Analyzing: analyze, categorize, compare, contrast, deconstruct, differentiate, examine, infer, organize, select, test
  • Applying: apply, carry out, choose, demonstrate, recreate, show, solve, use
  • Understanding: describe, distinguish, clarify, classify, compare, convert, contrast, estimate, explain, identify, locate, predict, relate, report, restate, translate, summarize
  • Remembering: define, describe, identify, label, list, match, name, order, recall, recognize

More measurable verbs are available in this Measurable Bloom's Verb handout from Uitica University. 

How Bloom's works with course-level and lesson-level objectives

The University of Arkansas has shared guidance on how Bloom's Taxonomy works with course-level and lesson-level objectives:

  • Course-level objectives are broad. You may only have 3-5 course level objectives. They would be difficult to measure directly because they overarch the topics of your entire course.
  • Lesson-level objectives are what we use to demonstrate that a student has mastery of the course-level objectives. We do this by building lesson-level objectives that build toward the course-level objectives. For example, a student might need to demonstrate mastery of 8 lesson-level objectives in order to demonstrate mastery of one course-level objective.
  • Because the lesson-level objectives directly support the course-level objectives, they need to build up the Bloom's Taxonomy to help your students reach mastery of the course-level objectives. Use Bloom's Taxonomy to make sure that the verbs you choose for your lesson-level objectives build up to the level of the verb that is in the course-level objectives. The lesson-level verbs can be below or equal to the course-level verb, but they cannot be higher in level. For example, your course-level verb might be an Applying level verb, like "illustrate." Your lesson-level verbs can be from any Bloom's level that is equal to or below this level (applying, understanding, and/or remembering).


Writing objectives

Bloom's Taxonomy