SaintsRiseUp Safe Return | Campus Reopening Updates

Writing Objectives

Purpose | Writing Objectives | Backwards Design

What is the purpose of an Objective?

targetAn objective is defined as “a description of a performance you want learners to be able to exhibit before you consider them competent.” (Mager, 1984). It gives your learners a target and way of knowing when they’ve ‘hit’ it.

4 Characteristics of an Objective:

  1. Describes an intended outcome
  2. Describes outcome in terms of student performance (measurable & observable)
  3. Describes intended student performance at the end of your instruction
  4. Describes student performance rather than teacher/instructional performance

In addition to course providing high level course objectives, instructors can provide lower level objectives for individual course modules/units. These objectives are specific to outcomes achieved upon completion of unit learning activities and assessments.

Book Cover of Preparing Instructional Objectives


If you want to learn more about objectives, we highly recommend Preparing Instructional Objectives by Robert F. Mager available through the CSS library. It reads much like a choose your own adventure book and allows you to ‘practice’ as you read.

How to Write an Objective

First off it needs to be measurable and observable. That means that it must be possible to assess whether or not a student has met the objective.

Measurable + Observable = Valid Learning Objective

When writing objectives, there are two types of verbs that can be used.

Those that are observable and measurable and those that aren’t. Those that aren’t are fuzzy and are unfortunately the most used in objectives. Don't Use Fuzzy Verbs: Know, Understand, Remember However, fuzzy verbs (e.g. know, understand, appreciate, comprehend, remember) don’t tell you anything about the student behavior and can’t be assessed. Don’t fall into that trap! 

Better verbs to use include identify, discuss write, draw, and list. See example below:

Example of fuzzy objective: “Become familiar with the literature on community nursing provided in the unit readings.”

Example of a measurable objective: “Synthesize the literature on community nursing provided in the unit readings.”

The best approach to writing your objective and choosing your action verb is to look at a chart based on Bloom’s Taxonomy, such as this PDF chart, “Verbs to Use in Creating Educational Objectives”.


The “Backwards Design” Approach to Writing Objectives

Backwards Design is an approach to curriculum or course design where you start by identifying the goals or objectives, and then develop the content and assessments based on these established outcomes.

There are three steps to backward design:

I. Identify Objectives/Outcomes

Writing your learning objectives for each day and/or unit of study. These should be ‘smaller’ than your course outcomes, but they should still clearly link together.

2. The Assessment (or acceptable evidence)

  • What will you accept as evidence that students are making progress toward the learning goals of the course?
  • How will you know if they are “getting it”?

When planning how you will collect this evidence, consider a wide range of assessment methods (see “Authentic Assessments”) and look back the verbs you used in your objectives to ensure that your assessments directly align with your learning goals. For example, if one of your objectives is for student to learn how to apply a project management skill, give them case scenario where they have to create a real-world object/artifact applying that skill and provide an explanation of why and how they created that object.

3. Plan teaching & learning activities

Now that you’ve created your objectives and decided on the appropriate assessment, you are ready to start planning how you’re going to teach. You can now move to designing your instructional strategies and students’ learning activities.

  • What is the best approach for developing your students’ ability to meet your learning objectives?
  • How can they practice using new knowledge in real world contexts when possible?
  • How can they apply their learning; do students see the purpose of what they are learning?

Devise active and collaborative exercises that encourage students to grapple with new concepts in order to “own” them. You want to foster an ability to apply the content, not rote memorization.