Lesson 1

Lesson 2

Lesson 3

Lesson 4

Lesson 5



How to Write Learning Objectives

UW Distance Learning courses have several important features in common: clear learning objectives; a comprehensive introduction to the course; materials and resources that provide the course content; a series of individual lessons, each containing an assignment or exercise; and at least one final assessment.

There are three essential steps in the preliminary course development process that lead to creation of these features: determining learning objectives for the course, choosing the course materials, and dividing the course content into lessons. This section focuses on learning objectives.


Determining Learning Objectives

One of the first things a person taking a course wants to know is "What am I going to learn in this course?" which is not the same as "What will this course cover?" Learning objectives are brief descriptions of specific things a learner completing the course will know or be able to do. They should be succinctly expressed using clear action verbs. A narrative statement of the scope of the course or the principal themes to be treated is still appropriate, but it is not a substitute for a clear list of learning objectives.

Think about what a successful student in your course should be able to do:

  • What concepts should they be using?
  • What kinds of analysis should they be able to perform?
  • What kind of writing should they be able to do?
  • What types of problems should they be solving?

Clearly describing these things for learners is the first vital step to creating an educational experience that will be meaningful, and will motivate them to complete the course. Begin by brainstorming a list of things you wish learners to know or be able to do. You will subsequently design measures for determining whether or not learners have accomplished these objectives (assessments), so thinks in terms of knowledge and skills that can be directly observed and measured. For example, Bill Mannone distinguishes between OVERT vs. COVERT descriptions:

"Remember that your performance must be observable or OVERT. Can you see a student determine? Can you see a student understand? These performances are called COVERT or hidden. Covert refers to performance that cannot be observed directly. There is an easy way to handle these in a performance statement. First you identify the covert skill (i.e., determine, select, understand), and add a word or two to that performance to tell your student what directly visible behavior is an acceptable indicator of the performance." Examples:

Understand Ohm's Law Define Ohm's Law in writing
Determine the bad circuit Verbally identify the bad circuit
Select between... Sort into groups ...


Writing Learning Objectives

Once you have a general idea of what you wish learners to know and be able to do, the next step is drafting the text that will clearly and specifically tell them what they can expect to learn. Experience indicates that the text of effective instructional objectives includes three parts. These parts are best described in the work of training and human performance expert Robert Mager:

  • description of a performance - what the learner is to be able to do. Example: be able to write a news article. The performance must be observable. Question to ask when writing this part: What do I want students to be able to do?
  • conditions - important conditions under which the performance is expected to occur Examples: Given a list of... (sort into stacks); when provided with standard tools... (construct a table); without using references... (know the state capitols) Questions to ask when writing this part: What are the important conditions or constraints under which I want them to perform? What the learner will be provided? What will the learner be denied? Are there special conditions which occur on the job or when performing?
  • criterion or standard - (the quality or level of performance that will be considered acceptable) . Examples: include measures of speed (in less than 30 minutes...), direction (according to manufacturers specifications...), accuracy (without error...) , quality (all cuts must be smooth to the touch). Question to ask when writing this part: How well must learners perform for me to be satisfied they've accomplished the objective?



  • Curriculum Development tutorial developed by Leslie Owen Wilson, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
  • Writing Behavioral Objectives, tutorial prepared by Teaching and Learning Center, Elementary General Music.
  • How to Write Behavioral Objectives, Dr. Bob Kizlik, Adprima tutorial. Includes examples of objectives written for English language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies.
  • Learning Skills Program. Blooms' Taxonomy. Samples of verbs to use that capture various levels and kinds of skills.



In addition to indicating to learners what they will know and be able to do at the successful completion of a course, well-crafted learning objectives are also the touchstones guiding the rest of the course development process. The choice of course materials, assignments or activities, and assessments should all reflect the learning objectives.

The question to consider when building a course from learning objectives is: How does this element of the course relate back to one or more of the learning objectives? For example, learners should not be asked to read or review material that is not relevant to one of the objectives. Nor should they be assessed on skills or knowledge which is not specifically outlined as important in one or more of the objectives.

Additional Resources

Mager, Robert F. (1997). Preparing Instructional Objectives, Third Edition, Atlanta, Georgia: The Center for Effective Performance, Inc.

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