The first step in the course design process is to identify what you want your students to learn in your course. By defining learning objectives for your course, you will be able to prioritize what assessments, learning activities and other content to include in your course while ensuring that your students will come away from the course with specific skills and competencies.

Think long-term

Five years from now, what would you like your students to remember and do from your course? These are the five to eight high-level learning objectives that you expect that all students should be able to achieve and which you will develop through the course’s learning activities and assessments. Keep in mind that you may break down these course-level learning objectives into smaller unit-level objectives; right now, we are trying to determine the main knowledge and skills that your students will gain.

Write learning objectives with action verbs. Use Bloom’s Taxonomy to identify appropriate action verbs for your learning objectives. Bloom’s Taxonomy is depicted as a pyramid of skills that are categorized in a hierarchical way, with lower-order skills building up to higher-order skills. This model helps you determine whether the skills you’ve identified suit your students’ baseline level of knowledge and skill. The model also helps you figure out how to move from a more basic skill, such as recalling or explaining, to an intermediate skill, such as applying, or an advanced skill, such as evaluating or creating new knowledge.

Make learning objectives measurable. To determine if the outcome is measurable, ask how you will be able to observe that a student has met this outcome. This observation may help define what assessments you want to give students to measure their level of skill.

In fact, if you’re having trouble identifying what you want students to be able to do, another way to approach learning objectives is to think about what assessments and activities you want to include in your course and ask what objectives those assessments and activities address. Further, looking at possibilities for activities and assessments may give you more ideas about how to address different skills in your course.

Examples of Learning Objectives
“By the end of this course, you will be able to…”
> Critically evaluate other writers’ appraisals of jazz musicians and jazz recordings
> Compare and contrast the differences between regular and irregular warfare
> Explain why race is considered a social construct
> Interpret the geologic history of a landscape by identifying the relevant tectonic, rock-forming and deformational processes

Once you’ve defined learning objectives, develop assessments and learning activities to measure whether students have achieved them. Keep in mind that you may have smaller, unit-level learning objectives that build up to the course-level objectives, so you may have multiple units, assessments and course activities that contribute to the assessment of a course-level objective. You can learn more about assessment planning in How will I know what my students have learned? and learning activities in What will we do in my course?

> What is Bloom’s Taxonomy? (Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching)
> Bloom’s Taxonomy Verbs chart (PDF)
> Online Instructional Activities Index (UIllinois-Springfield)
> Sample Learning Objectives (Carnegie Mellon)