Learning objectives ideally describe a direction for the student acquiring new knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Every decision you make about your lecture or small group session should depend on what you hope your students will be able to do as a result of your session.
Why are learning objectives important? As an expert in your field, you probably already have a good idea of what you want your students to learn during your time with them. Taking a few minutes before you finalize your session content and activities to capture those objectives is a worthwhile investment – in the development of successful learning experiences for your students and in your own development as an educator.
More specifically, learning objectives
How do I write good learning objectives?
Every learning opportunity can have its own objectives, from a multi-session unit to a single lecture or assignment.
Objectives should not contain such vague outcomes as "Students will understand…" or "Students will know…" This is not to say that students should never simply acquire knowledge, but you will be more likely to measure this knowledge when students "Describe," "List," or "Identify" that knowledge. For example:
After the lecture on “bioenergetics,” students should be able to
Weak Use of Verbs
Understand the uncoupling of the electron transport chain from ATP synthesis and the physiological consequences
Describe the uncoupling of the electron transport chain from ATP synthesis and the physiological consequences
Note: Understanding, per se, cannot be measured. Words such as know, understand, and learn are open to many interpretations and thus not truly measurable.
Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy (1956) is very helpful in writing learning objectives for the cognitive (knowing), psychomotor (doing: skill), and affective (attitude) domains. Much of the medical school curriculum focuses on the cognitive domain, which Bloom categorized into 6 levels, starting from simple recall or recognition of facts (knowledge) level, through increasingly more complex and abstract mental levels, to the highest order (evaluation.)
Here are some examples of action verbs that represent each of the six cognitive levels, from lowest to highest, which you should consider using:
Knowledge: define, list, name, order, recognize, recall, label
Comprehension: classify, describe, discuss, explain, identify, locate, report, review
Application: apply, choose, demonstrate, illustrate, practice, solve, use
Analysis: analyze, appraise, calculate, compare/contrast, differentiate, diagram
Synthesis: arrange, assemble, construct, design, formulate, prepare, write
Evaluation: assess, argue, judge, predict, rate, evaluate, score, choose
After the lecture on dizziness, students will be able to
Name the five causes of dizziness (lower level of cognition; simple recall)
Given a patient case description, determine the three most likely causes of dizziness (higher level of cognition).
Note: Ideally, a quiz question would present a clinical case and ask students to determine the cause of dizziness (i.e., apply knowledge) rather than just recognize causes from a five-option multiple-choice question.
For more information on Bloom’s taxonomy, including action verbs for writing learning objectives, see http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/bloom.html
They should include a range of actions appropriate to the students' year and incoming knowledge and the expected competencies for the course. For example, when students are exposed to a new body of knowledge, you will probably instruct them to "Define" or "Recall," but, over time, they should be moved to "Analyze" and "Interpret."