Module 4- Objectives

This week we talk about objectives and why we need them in instructional design. Learning objectives ensure that both students and instructors are clear about wanted learning outcomes. It also helps to design evaluation instrument because evaluation items should align with the measurable objectives. Besides, it has been proved that students that know what exact terminal behaviors are more likely to learn better than those who doesn’t.

We discussed the advantages of using learning objectives in many aspects, which I thought were widely recognized in education. In nearly all my undergraduate courses, syllabi with specified objectives were distributed to students and the instructor often made a further explanation about them in the first class. So I was a little bit shocked when Prof. Pusch said that teachers & experts in fields other than education actually didn’t attach importance to writing good objectives. Then I asked my roommate who studies Finance here about her attitudes towards objectives and impact they created on her study. Her answer was “I have never read them though I know they are listed on the syllabus”. According to her, some professors in Whitman even never talked about learning objectives. “Sometimes you just feel confused because you don’t know what you are learning and which parts are important”, said she. Another example comes from my friends in LC Smith School. I have heard their complaints of test ever since the first quiz they toke. No relevance! They cried out. They told me it was so common to find nothing (occasionally a pretty small portion) related to the knowledge/ topic that dominated a two-hour class in an exam. Sadly and obviously, they didn’t get good scores. We don’t mean to encourage test-oriented learning here, but students should be able to differentiate key points in this chunk from trivial things after class. Perhaps their professor regards this sort of quiz & exams as “external stimulus”, but it brings too much negative effect on students’ confidence as well as their meta-cognitive knowledge of learning (they might question themselves “do I really acquire the knowledge”).

As for Bloom’s taxonomy of learning objectives, I have to say that I love that list. It is useful tool for instructional design and people could simply pick an appropriate verb that makes terminal behavior measurable. In a blog post I read recently, however, critiques on it were stated as below.

“One person planned a simple game to reinforce Bloom’s taxonomy. The group was divided into two teams, and one person at a time from each team came up to the front and faced each other across a table. The “game show host” read a “Bloom verb” off an index card and the contestants slapped the table to see who could classify it first.

What would you guess happened? Think about a verb like “Determine”: where would you classify it?

The game almost immediately devolved into arguments over where the verbs belong. The poor activity leader had consulted a single list and didn’t even consider that different lists categorize verbs differently. Sometimes a single list classifies verbs in different places. This Bloom verb list, for example, classifies “identify” as both Knowledge and Comprehension; another list puts “compare” and “contrast” both in Analysis and Evaluation, depending on whether you use them together or separately.”

I don’t think people’s different interpretations of a word would have much side impact on learning outcomes. Let’s say, the instructor use “compare” in objective statement with the initial purpose at the “Analysis” level, and students think that they should achieve the “Evaluation” level. Probably they would study harder and probably the final performance is beyond their expectation. Bloom’s taxonomy is illustrated in a pyramid, behaviors listed in the lower layers are usually part of advanced-level behavior in upper layers. “Compare” and “Contrast” are two things we do in evaluation. If students could reach a higher-level learning objective, they certainly have achieve the lower-level first.



5 thoughts on “Module 4- Objectives

  1. You said, “Besides, it has been proved that students that know what exact terminal behaviors are more likely to learn better than those who doesn’t.” Really? I’m not convinced of that. Can you provide a citation for this research? After all, the other research I cited in my post found that not telling students the objectives had no significant impact on learning.

    It can help for learners to know the goals, but in the real world, that doesn’t mean telling them the objectives in the way we word them for ourselves when designing. For instructional design purposes, we might say, “Given a structured question framework, learners will plan a series of systematic questions for engaging senior level executives.” In the introduction of the course, I wouldn’t tell sales representatives that though. I’d say something like, “What will you get out of this course? You’ll learn how to improve your conversations with CxOs to maximize the value of information you gain with your questions.” That tells them why they should care about the course without giving them the instructional design jargon.

    1. Christy, thank you for your comment. I agree with you. In real world teachers usually don’t tell students objectives in the way they write in the plan. According to my experience ( I don’t teach but have been a student for 17 years) ” learning objectives” in syllabus are much more like goals although they are called “objectives”, and as you said, they are helpful for students.

  2. First, that’s so true about many people’s attitude towards learning objectives. I assume that not a lot of people know that a good objective should cover Audience, Behavior, Condition, and Degree. Even if they know these key words, they might not really give importance to it because they don’t understand how good objectives will benefits them. Second, I like that you present an article critiquing Bloom’s taxonomy. On one hand, given verbs are proved to give strong sense of what the objectives really want to achieve and it’s really useful to be use as a guideline template for new instructional designer like us. On the other hand, some verbs can be placed more than 1 category depending on level/stage of achievement student intended to pursue. I agree with you that different interpretation doesn’t really matter. Checking whether what level the student is currently in is more crucial.

  3. On telling students the objectives. From and ID perspective (keep in mind we are in instructional design), objectives help focus the design. Certainly within certain instructional situations (the objective is to make an ice cream cone within specific parameters) it aids the learner to know the objectives.

    That said, I agree with chris. Students should know the goal. Whether they need to know the objectives could depend on context. But the instructor/trainer should know what the intended outcomes are/aren’t. (For example, in this week’s reading from “Orbiting the Giant Hairball” the author comments on how he was asked to do a workshop on creativity and the ppl wanted to know what outcomes were expected. his response “I can’t give you that…” since the workshop was about creativity.)

    If students don’t do well on assessments, I would say one needs to look at the instruction. Is the course being taught in a way that is out of sync with the assessments? (and do the assessments really reflect what the instructor intends the students to get out of the course?)


    1. When I design courses, I generally figure out the objectives first. Those are the goals; everything else should flow from those. Regardless of whether the students ever see the objectives or not, they’re critical to my process.

      Once the SME or instructor and I have agreed on the objectives, I prefer to develop the assessments next. I sometime build a matrix showing how each objective maps to the assessments. That helps me make sure that I’m assessing everything and that none of my assessments are superfluous. As you said Rob, you need to make sure the assessments really reflect what we intend for students to get out of the course.

      After the assessments are developed, I can start working on the content. The content should directly support the assessments. Beginning with the assessments means I don’t just develop assessments to cover content that isn’t really needed. If a SME or instructor wants to include content that doesn’t support an objective and assessment, it can go in supplemental resources. It doesn’t need to be a mandatory part of the course.

      Beginning with the end in mind–the objectives and assessments–means you’re much more likely to have everything aligned. If students aren’t doing well on the assessments, I would suggest doing an analysis in that order as well, rather than starting with the instruction as you suggested, Rob. The instruction is the last piece to analyze.

      1. Do the objectives really capture the true goals?
      2. Do the assessments really measure the objectives?
      3. Does the content support the assessments?
      4. Does the instruction align with the content (and therefore the assessments and objectives)?

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