Learning Objectives

Learning Objectives/Outcomes

Learning Objectives (Outcomes) are statements that describe what students will be expected to learn by the end of the course, unit, lesson, project, class period, etc.

Some instructors use these terms interchangeably, some are very particular about them.  Generally, “objectives” are what is taught and “outcomes” are what the instructor wants the students to learn.  In the end, both terms describe what will be tested and most instructors can correlate the items on their exams back to the learning objectives they assigned in class.

Just understand that these statements represent the “take-home” message and they should be used to guide your studying.

Not only do you have to learn the material, if you’re going to study systematically, you need to understand the level of knowledge you’re expected to have!  Use the words in the learning objectives as a guide for study: are you aiming for lower-order learning or higher-order thinking? Look at the verbs in the statements and you’ll get clues as to what you’ll be expected to do with the material.

The list of verbs here progresses downward from the lowest-order thinking to the highest-order:

Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning Domains
Lower Order Processes: recall, list, name, locate, identify, recognize, describe
  understand, interpret, summarize, infer, paraphrase
  classify, explain, use, implement
  analyze, compare, organize, deconstruct, outline,
  evaluate, hypothesize, critique, test,
Higher Order Processes: create, design, devise, develop, produce, predict

For the sake of example, consider this partial listing of the Learning Objectives from BS 161 (Cells & Molecules):

There are a few things I should draw your attention when you read these objectives.  The first might be that there’s a lot of work ahead to master them!  Hopefully you will read the first Lecture-Level objective and be reminded of your time in chemistry – this is an example of a time when that prerequisite knowledge comes in.  Since intermolecular forces are covered in CEM 141, you can expect to spend less time on them in BS 161 as you should already know this. 

The professor is kind enough to give you both Course-Level Objectives and Lecture-Level objectives.  You should be able to see how the lecture objectives are smaller parts of the over-arching course objectives.  Note that each of these two Lecture-Level Objectives start with “Throughout this course…”.  This indicates that the professor expects you to hang on to this information and build from it – these are not ideas that you regurgitate on an exam and then forget about the next week. It should also be noted that if these ideas are extensions of what you learned in another course (like chemistry, in this case), you'll need to make time to review notes/concepts from that other course in order to grasp the larger picture, if you don't recall the details of that subject.

Pay close attention to the verbs that are used.  Referring to the list above, you can see that there are different levels of learning expected – very few of them are on the lowest level and yet many students rely on memorization of material as the key component of studying.  Don’t misunderstand, some memorization is needed as you must set a firm foundation on which to layer subsequent knowledge and facts that you memorize can be part of that scaffold – but it’s not the only thing you must do!  The section on Study Skills will get at the specifics of becoming more efficient with your study time.

Now let’s look at one of the actual BS 161 exam questions that covers these learning objectives:

What can we learn from just reading the question?  First, we can get an indication of the amount of work to be done.  You can expect the higher-point-value questions to be more demanding than those with lower points, so compare the point value of this question with the others on the exam and budget your time accordingly.  Second, there are three things to do (draw, name, explain). Third, the “3 sentences” in parenthesis would indicate that you are limited to three sentences for the explanation so you’ll need to choose your words carefully.

This question hits on several of the Lecture-Level Objectives listed (and likely several objectives that were covered in a different lecture).  Thorough preparation of the learning objectives – and going to Instructor/TA office hours and the BioSci help room for clarification on details you didn’t understand – would make this a fairly straightforward question!