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Writing course objectives

Learning objectives may be written with respect to knowledge, skills and attitudes.

For an objective to be claimed, it must be assessed; therefore, there must be an alignment between objectives and assessments.

Typically, it's easier to assess knowledge and skills than attitudes.

There are typically three parts to an objective:

1. The stem

A course objective starts with a stem, which would typically look something like this:

“On completion of this course students will be able to...”


2. The performance verb

Next, there is a performance verb, which should NOT be placed in the stem. For example:

“On completion of this course students will be able to explain...

Typical performance verbs include:

  • Identify..........
  • Explain...........
  • Apply.................
  • Analyse..........................
  • Critique......................
  • Synthesise....................

Try to avoid verbs such as “understand” or “appreciate”: they are difficult to assess.


3. The object

Finally, you need to add the object to which the verb relates:

“On completion of this course students will be able to (STEM) explain (VERB) basic anatomical and physiological terminology, and describe the structure and organisation of the human body (OBJECT).

Some (not all) instructional documents about how to write learning objectives state that the objective should denote a standard to be achieved. This needs to be seen at two levels.

  • The verb used is a performance standard. For example ‘apply’ denotes a performance standard. However, it doesn't suggest how the verb will be measured.
  • At UniSA, the performance standard relating to measuring is usually articulated in accompanying documents such as the relevant assessment criteria / feedback proforma, and so it doesn't need to be stated in the objective. The accompanying criteria and feedback sheets need to align with the objective.


Assessing attitudes

Attitudinal objectives require a different set of verbs and are at times problematic. Examples of attitudinal verbs are:

  • Cooperate
  • Engage
  • Respond

Other important things to consider

  • What year level is the course? Lower level objectives might be appropriate in the early years of a program but probably not in the later years.
  • What knowledge, skills and attitudes will your students come in with?
  • What types of learning does your profession require? 
  • What courses and what learning will the students be doing simultaneously and subsequently?
  • How will you assess the objective? You cannot claim an objective you have not assessed. It must be observable and measurable in some way.
  • Higher level objectives tend to mean that deeper learning is more likely, but foundation learning may have to occur first.
  • Skills, like problem solving and team work, have to be taught before they can be used.