Learning objectives: don’t you love them?

Generic Learning Objectives

Generic Learning Objectives – © Museums, Libraries and Archives Council

This week I have been writing learning objectives for a two-week full-time course, using the cognitive section of Bloom’s taxonomy of learning. So I need to crystallise what students are expected to learn in each session, then express each objective with an appropriate verb.

So for example, at initial stages of cognitive learning students will be able to state/identify/explain; but at later stages, when they think more critically, they will be able to contrast/summarise/evaluate. Less precise (but constantly needed!) verbs such as ‘understand’, ‘be aware of’, are rejected as too vague to be testable.

I find this process to be harder than it logically should be.

  • Don’t we all plan lessons with clear outcomes in mind?
  • Isn’t it just a case of pulling these out and expressing them concisely?
  • Err… no.

When planning lessons you have to think of what will be interesting, inspiring, appropriately pitched and compatible with the previous lesson. And we know that a lot of what is learnt by students may not appear in the objectives. A change in a thought pattern. A spark of interest. Suddenly, in the inexplicable way in which the brain works, understanding what was said in the last lesson (not this one). And once you’re teaching, unpredictable things may happen which you have to respond to on the hoof.

But Bloom’s taxonomy does actually include objectives for affective learning, involving the attitudes and emotions, and psychomotor learning, involving behaviour and physical skills. It is not all about passing exams.

Advocates of learning objectives accept that objectives do not cover everything and acknowledge that other things learned can be just as important. However, their point is that these other things are not usually testable. And if they are not testable, you don’t know if they have happened or not. Students must know what a lesson will contain, what they are expected to learn, and the teacher should be able to check this. And all these things, in fact, help them to learn it.

All these things I would agree with. And I also find that the process of writing objectives, painful though it is, helps me to focus the lesson. However, as an additional contribution to the debate, might I add these generic learning objectives, written by the (now defunct) Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.

The objectives were developed because museums felt they needed to articulate the wide range of things which people experience in museums, which may be different to those experienced in the classroom or lecture hall. These range from ‘learning facts for information’ to ‘having fun’. But perhaps all these things can apply to lessons too, and they could even help with lesson planning – see what you think.


June 17, 2015