Defining and Authoring Learning Objectives

Authored by Udemy’s Learning Science and Design Team

This guide has been put together by Udemy’s Learning Science team to define learning objectives and highlight best practices when authoring them as part of content development purposes.


What Are Learning Objectives?

Learning objectives answer the question: what should a learner be able to do if they complete this learning activity or experience. Note: If you are authoring a learning objective for any type of assessment, this shifts do what am I measuring their ability to do in this assessment.


Learning objectives provide a degree of specificity about the purpose of learning experiences and activities. They are learner-centric as opposed to domain-centric; ie they specify what actions the learner will be able to do, not just what domains the learner will be familiar with. This specificity is important because if the action the learner is expected to learn is undefined, there is no way to know what the learner actually learned to do. The key is that learning objectives facilitate the design of learning experiences that are demonstrable and measurable.


Why Use Learning Objectives?

Learning objectives are used in instructional design to ensure the learning experience is designed to accomplish defined outcomes at a particular depth. When planning a learning experience, learning objectives are tools that allows you to be certain that your content includes the right learning experiences and/or the right assessments as evidence for reaching them.


Often as we go from planning to creating content, the learning objectives shift. When these learning objectives change, so should the instructional activities and assessments. 


The more aligned these components are through a learning experience, the more likely a piece of learning content focuses on the right things, and, if included, the assessments serve as evidence that they were learned.


Writing Learning Objectives


The basic form of a learning objective has two parts: 1) an action verb that describes a desired learner action and/or ability performed and 2) a description of the specific context for the performance. The learning objective should relate to the following prompt: a learner who completes this learning activity should be able to: [action verb] [in defined condition(s)]. For the purpose on an assessment: a learner who answers this question correctly has provided evidence that they can do the learning objective.


  1. The main work will be deciding the action verb. The choice of this verb should depend on the level and depth of understanding. A common framework to utilize for verb suggestions would be Bloom’s Taxonomy. However, you can lean into the task itself to select the verb (See examples below). 


  1. Next, you’ll relate that action verb to context in which a learner should be able to perform it.
    1. Note: A really well defined learning objective will have a performance context that is split into the condition (the condition under which the student will perform the described behavior) and the degree (the degree indicates the desired level or degree of acceptable performance). For our purposes, we will focus more on the condition.


Examples of high quality learning objectives:

  • Identify triangles correctly by choosing triangles out of a selection of other 2D shapes. (level: Understand)
  • Write multi-container specifications using YAML for Docker Compose. (level: Apply)
  • Summarize data sets with groupings and aggregation in PivotTables. (level: Analyze)


Tips for Writing and Improving Learning Objectives (source)


  • Keep statements short and focused on a single outcome. This allows us to determine whether or not an objective has been met without having to distinguish between partial completion or success.
  • To ensure that learning objectives are effective and measurable, avoid using verbs that are vague or cannot be objectively assessed. Use active verbs that describe what a student will be able to do once learning has occurred. So, for example, avoid words like understand, learn, and know.
  • Learning objectives should be student-focused and target the expected student outcome. To assist in maintaining a student-centered emphasis, start learning objectives with the phrase “The learner/student will be able to. . .” even if you take the phrase out in the final version.


A Process to Write Quality Learning Objectives 


  1. Consider the authentic activity a learner in the field would need to perform as a practitioner. How do people use what you’re teaching about? For what purpose? Select an appropriate action verb that reflects this authentic action.
    • Consider the complexity of the action the student is being asked to do by looking at the six levels of learning in Bloom’s Taxonomy (remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, create) to help guide you in selecting the verb
    • Example: Your new Udemy course is about Management and the specific section you are planning will have an activity where learners will practice providing feedback. Here’s where you’d start
      Ex: Give feedback using the SBI framework (apply level of Bloom’s Taxonomy).


2. Add additional criteria to indicate how or when the outcome will be demonstrable to add context for the student.

Ex: Give feedback using the SBI framework to an employee during a performance review.


3. (Optional) Define the degree that would be acceptable if a learner properly meetings the objective

Ex: Give feedback using the SBI framework to an employee during a performance review covering all areas of evaluation for your company.


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