“What’s the Point?” Using Learning Objectives Effectively
WHAT’S THE POINT?
We’ve all had that dreaded question asked of us by our students at one point – “Why are we doing this miss/sir?” There is a multitude of answers: “Because it helps make you a better learner,” “Because you need it for the exam” or the very blunt “Because I told you to.” The easiest way to answer this question is through clear and engaging learning objectives that can be referred to throughout a lesson. Students will have no reason to ask ‘why?’ when their objective is clear.
This blog breaks down the importance of well-planned learning objectives and how to create them. Whether your school calls them objectives, outcomes, intentions or something else, this advice should help in understanding and planning whatever your lesson goals are.
1. For teachers…
- The Big Picture – When creating your weekly or medium-term plans you should be asking the following questions.
- Where are the students starting from?
- Where do we want to get them to?
- How will you know when they get there?
- How can they be supported to get there?
- The big picture is why we plan. The students are who we are planning for. When you plan a sequence of lessons, keep the above questions in mind at all times. Why not actually screenshot a section of the syllabus that today’s lesson covers and share this with your class? Presenting the big picture can be as simple as showing students how far they’ve come and what they are learning today, with the chance to look at the challenges that lay ahead – linking it to previous learning, “in the last lesson we…”
- Clear learning objectives help you select and organise course content – As a teacher, when you write and review the learning objectives, you can identify the kinds of materials and topics that will be suitable to the learning outcomes most efficiently. With well-defined, actionable learning objectives comes the ability to quickly filter out texts or activities that do not suit the lesson.
- Clear learning objectives help you determine assessments – Do students ever complain that they are being assessed on things that they have not been specifically taught? Do you ever struggle to write a question to assess a learning objective? If so, you should think again about learning objectives or redesign your assessment because the learning objectives and the assessment are not aligned to each other. Well-written learning objectives will help you build focused assessments aligned with the critical learning components of your course.
2. For students…
- Learning objectives communicate specifically what students should be able to do – For instance, students in a GCSE geography class can have clear ideas of what they will get out of the class if they read learning objectives like these:
- Learning Objective: What are the opportunities for development in Alaska?
- You should be able to:
- Describe the opportunities available in cold environments
- Explain how they impact people and the environment
- Apply my knowledge to my Alaska case study
- Learning objectives tell students what is important – This enables students to focus on the learning in the lesson no matter what the activities are or what behaviour may distract them. This also gives them a clear focus for revision.
- Learning objectives should be used to guide students as they are able to assess their learning progress – Excellent learning objectives provide a guide for students when reviewing materials and preparing for assessments. But it also develops metacognition as the students are able to self-reflect (whether directed to or not) on their progress throughout the lesson by referring to the learning objectives. It sets the foundation for student-led academic discussion.
- It is therefore very important that students are exposed, in one way or another, to the learning objective for the lesson.
- Clear learning objectives help you challenge behaviour. With a clear learning objective, you remove the excuses of students for not knowing what they are doing or why they are doing it. It also enables you to ask students whether they have achieved a specific outcome/criteria and they admit it themselves after self-reflection rather than you telling them what they’ve failed at completing.
- Objectives must be specific measurable and actionable. They must also follow this advice:
- DO make sure the objective matches the desired student learning.
- DON’T make an objective about activities. It should be about skills and learning.
- See some examples below where language has been clarified to make the objective specific, measurable and actionable.
- Before: Learn how the physical and chemical attributes of the brain affect learning.
- After: Be able to list three techniques for better studying that are derived from physical and chemical attributes of the brain.
- Before: Be able to write basic programs in the Python programming language.
- After: Be able to write Python programs to solve problems which require: sequential execution, repeated execution, and conditional execution.
- Before: Understand and solve problems with conditional probability.
- After: Identify situations and questions in which laws of conditional probability should be used and explain the impacts.
- Before: Understand the role of epidemiology in quantifying the health effects of environmental hazards.
- After: Define the concept of epidemiology and its role in determining the health effects of environmental exposures.
- Breaking a larger objective into smaller ‘success criteria’ (as seen in the Alaska example above). This enables both you and students to more easily track progress throughout the lesson. Therefore, adjustments can be made to the lesson direction based on current progress and students are clearly able to see the progression of their knowledge/steps toward achieving the learning objective.
- Bloom’s Taxonomy provides a great way to write learning objectives and success criteria to keep the learning focused and also clearly differentiate the learning journey.
Here are some more articles with useful advice:
- The Hidden Power of Learning Objectives
- Why learning objectives are so important?
- Creating learning objectives (some great science examples)
- Using Bloom’s Taxonomy to Write Effective Learning Objectives