Writing Objectives

The following information is from Marzano, R. (2009). Designing & teaching learning goal & objectives. Marzano Research Laboratory. Bloomington, IN

The words objectives and goals have been used to mean the same thing and for others they have different meanings. Even research tends to use them interchangeably. See http://www.diffen.com/difference/Goal_vs_Objective for one comparison.

Objective GoalObjectives or goals — are the reason activities and content are designed. Without them, there would be no direction for the online content. McNeill and Reiser (2007) explain that good teaching begins with clear learning goals from which teachers (instructional designers) select appropriate instructional activities and assessments that help determine students’ progress on the learning goals.

I believe we can agree on is that a well-constructed objective (or goal) should contain a clear reference to a specific type of knowledge as well as reference to the behaviors that demonstrate proficiency relative to that knowledge. Krathwohl and Payne (1971) made a distinction between three levels or types of objectives:

  • Global objectives – most general. Example: Students will be able to apply basic properties of probability.
  • Educational objectives – see below
  • Instructional objectives – see below

Instructional Objectives

  • Well written objectives should include
    • Performance. An objective always says what a learner is expected to be able to do; the objective sometimes describes the product or results of the doing.
    • Conditions. An objective always describes the important conditions (if any) under which the performance is to occur.
    • Criterion. Whenever possible, an objective describes the criterion of acceptable performance by describing how well the learner must perform in order to be considered acceptable.

Educational Objectives (Goals)

  • The research shows that two important characteristics of learning goals are 1) goal specificity (degree to which goals are defined in terms of clear and distinct outcomes) and 2) goal difficulty (degree to which goals provide a challenge to students).
    • Goal Specificity
      • Research shows that the more specific they are, the better they are. For example very specific – Students will be able to list the bones of the human hand. A general example – students will be able to write a well-formed essay.
    • Goal Difficulty
      • Depending on students knowledge, they will perceive the goal as difficult or easy. Research shows that students are motivated by difficult goals — but not too difficult.
  • Types of Learning Goals
    • Mastery Goals
      • focus on developing competence
      • Examples:
        • Students will be able to use word segmentation and syllables to decode an unrecognized word.
        • Students will be able to compare ordinal numbers through the fifth position (that is, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th).
      • Research shows these type are associated with higher order learning and better retention.
    • Performance Goals
      • focus on demonstrating competence by obtaining a specific score or grade
      • will typically include a desired score or grade
      • Examples:
        • Students will obtain a grade B or higher by the end of the Unit.
        • All students will be determined proficient or high in reading by the end of the school year.
    • Noncognitive Goals
      • Affective (feeling) and psychomotor (doing) issues affect cognitive performance and are worthwhile domains of learning themselves
      • Cooperative learning also supports student achievement.
        • Cooperative goals are established to help students accomplish academic goals.

Communicating Goals and Providing Feedback

  • Feedback – information that facilitates the process of reaching the learning goals.
  • Feedback sometimes hinders performance.
  • Feedback on task, process and self-regulation is often effective.
  • Feedback on self (often delivered as praise) typically does not enhance learning and achievement.


Twelve steps for writing learning objectives. (These are from Online Course Improvement Program from New Mexico State University.)

  1. Write your course level objectives by beginning with the end in mind. (Consider skills and abilities you want students to obtain by the end of your course.)
  2. Draft specific learning objectives for each module or unit that align to course-level objectives.
  3. Limit your list of objectives for each module or unit. 3-5 objectives should be adequate.
  4. Write objectives in student-friendly voice.
  5. All verbs used in learning objectives should be observable. (Bloom’s verbs).
  6. Clearly state learning objectives.
  7. The relationship between learning objectives and activities is obvious to the student.
  8. All verbs used in learning objectives are measurable.
  9. Review wording of learning objective to ensure students receive all information on how to meet the objective.
  10. Clearly communicate and describe the intended learning objective.
  11. Reread to check clarity of learning objective to assure expectations are evident to student.
  12. Verify learning objective is appropriately designed and add to your course.

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