Online Course-in-a-Box

Table of Contents 
Defining the Goal

Learning objectives are statements that define the aims, skills, and outcomes of a course, module, or assignment. Effective learning objectives should be clear and measurable through assessment. Learning objectives include course and module objectives, while course objectives are general statements about the overarching aims and what learners are expected to achieve at the end of the course. Module objectives are nested into course objectives and are more specific, testing and measuring skills learned as part of that module. In the research literature, course and module objectives are often called course aims and learning outcomes, and are sometimes used interchangeably. To avoid creating confusion, we will refer to them as course and module learning objectives.

Best Practices

  • Identify the learning domain in your course or module, and how to measure it. Anderson and Krathwohl’s revised Bloom’s Taxonomy illustrates a hierarchy of cognitive domains, from lower-order (remembering, understanding) to higher-order thinking skills (evaluating, creating). Ensure the learning objectives contain a domain-specific action verb (e.g., “define” as opposed to a more generic “learn”) that makes the skill measurable.6
  • Ensure clarity in wording and learner-oriented instructions. When designing both course and module learning objectives, make sure you use clear wording that is understandable to students. For examples of both types of objectives, see Ramsden.7
  • Ensure module objectives align to but are more specific than course objectives. Module learning objectives should nest into the overall course objectives but should focus on learning at lower and more detailed levels than course objectives.2
  • Connect objectives to activities and assessments. Consider three learning objective values: effectiveness (extent of student achievement), efficiency (student time/cost), and appeal (student participation). Different instructional activities can be more or less useful depending on the importance you place on each objective value (e.g., is student participation more important than student achievement for one learning objective?).3,4
  • Align objectives to learning skills. Skills to be learned may not necessarily be cognitive. Learning objectives can measure verbal knowledge, intellectual skills, cognitive strategies, attitudes, and motor skills. Ensure that your teaching strategies are aligned with each of these categories.1

 Guidelines for Writing Learning Objectives
Poorly Written Learning Objectives Are...
Well Written Learning Objectives Are...


Students will learn the programming language Python.

Clear and Specific

Students will use the programming language, Python, to complete a data mining analysis. 


Students will know the elements form the periodic table.


Students will be able to identify the elements from the periodic table based on their symbols.


Students will be able to apply one of the many theories of social psychology and apply those theories to a number of real-world situations.


Students will be able to apply theories of social psychology to real-world situations.

 Independent of Course Objectives

Course Objective: Students will be able to
construct a sentence in Spanish using correct
grammar and punctuation.

Learning Objective: Students will identify
provinces in Spain on a map.

Tied into Course Objectives

Course Objective: Students will be able to
construct a sentence in Spanish using correct
grammar and punctuation.

Learning Objective: Students will be able to
conjugate verbs correctly in the past tense.


  1. Allen, D. I., & White, R. T. (1980). Learning objectives and teaching strategies. Canadian Journal of Education, 5(2): 23-42.
  2. Harden, R.M. (2002). Learning outcomes and instructional objectives: Is there a difference? Medical Teacher, 24(2): 151-155.
  3. Honebein, P. C., & Honebein, C. H. (2015). Effectiveness, efficiency, and appeal: Pick any two? The influence of learning domains and learning outcomes on designer judgments of useful instructional methods. Educational Technology Research and Development, 63(6): 937-955.
  4. Kennedy, D. (2006). Writing and using learning outcomes: A practical guide. Cork, University College Cork.
  5. Krathwohl, D. R. (2002). A revision of Bloom's taxonomy: An overview. Theory into Practice, 41(4): 212-218. Ramsden, P. (2003). Learning to teach in higher education. New York, NY: Routledge.