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Many instructors question why objectives are needed. These are typically new instructors or those who have taught for years and managed ďjust fineĒ without them. These educators consider it a ďwaste of timeĒ to translate what they already do into a series of objectives; these educators fail to recognize the potential usefulness of objectives in describing specific learning goals. More importantly, properly written objectives can be valuable tools in helping educators determine how to deliver and evaluate their curriculum.
In order to clarify how objectives function in this way, an important distinction must be made. One of the most common mistakes found in instructional objectives reflects confusion between the process and the products of instruction. The first step in planning any coursework is to distinguish between the products and process. This distinction is illustrated by the following example:
The statement above, written in the form of an objective, describes a teaching activity, not a learner outcome. Properly written instructional objectives should focus on attainable and measurable performance indicators as illustrated below.
Further clarification of how learning outcomes relate to learning experiences provided by the teaching environment is shown in Figure 1.
The instructor must also understand that while learning objectives help the instructor identify elements that will contribute to an effective learning environment, a wide range of influences exist that are student dependent, all affecting a studentís learning experience. This includes: the studentís ability to comprehend specific content, the studentís ability to apply that knowledge, the studentís attainment of critical thinking skills necessary to effectively utilize the knowledge, the studentís psychomotor skills, the studentís past experience and attitude about learning as well as their expectations. These influences all impact the learning environment and the individual studentís ability to make use of the learning process. See Figure 2.
Similarly, the instructor brings a number of tools to the learning process. These tools include content, instructional strategies, and resources which enable the learner to reach an end product of learning. Planning is necessary to clearly design instruction that is focused on specific learning goals.
Instructional objectives define these learning goals. Rather than describing how information is taught, instructional objectives shift the attention instead to what is expected of the student in demonstrating mastery of the knowledge, skills or attitudes. This shift clarifies the purpose of instruction and helps educators begin to think about how this skill is taught and how student learning is evaluated. Norman Gronlund1 depicted the three purposes of learning objectives as illustrated in Figure 3. Clearly articulated learning objectives can provide a roadmap for the instructor and the student so that both share the same perspective of where their instructional journey is taking them.
1Adapted from Gronlund, NE. (1985) Stating Objectives for Classroom Instruction. Third Edition. MacMillon Publishing Company, New York, NY.