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Writing Learning Objectives

Course objectives guide all educational activities and are critical to the success of a course. The most frequent reasons a course proposal is returned for revision are that the course objectives are:

  • Teaching rather than learning objectives (i.e., they are written from the perspective of the instructor rather than of the learner)
  • Written at too low a level of cognitive domain for graduate education

A brief guide, Writing Learning Objectives , can assist you in writing appropriate objectives.

In addition, some course objectives are presented and critiqued below in an effort to improve their usefulness to students:

A common issue with many of the following objectives is that they often combine two or more lower level objectives that are precursors to doing the higher level objective. This format can obscure the higher level objective:

  • Identify, summarize, and interpret data and information relevant to a health policy issue.
  • Identify, interpret, and evaluate policies related to specific health care programs.
  • Comment: These objectives combine three different verbs at three different levels. The lower level verbs are subsumed under the higher level verb. For example, in order to interpret data relevant to health policy, the student must do the lower level activities of identifying and summarizing health policies. Hence, those activities are subsumed in the activity of interpreting the policies, and only the interpreting activity needs to be presented. Both objectives should begin “Evaluate . . .” In this manner, it will be more obvious to the reader that these are higher level objectives.

  • Evaluate research tools for soundness and applicability in specified research projects.
  • Comment: This objective might be improved by writing “Evaluate psychometric properties of research instruments.”

  • Integrate health behavior theories to design a public health intervention in the form of a research proposal.
  • Comment: Two verbs again, both at a higher level, with one verb (integrate) subsumed under the other verb (design). The objective might be rewritten as “Design a research proposal for a public health intervention based on health behavior theories.”

  • Comprehend and analyze the current molecular biology literature.
  • Apply appropriate experimental techniques to problem-solving.
  • Comment: In the first objective, there are two verbs again, at two different levels, with comprehension necessary before the analyzing can be done. Rewrite as “Critique molecular biology literature.” The second objective is not at a very high level. There may be a couple of objectives here. For example, “Critique experimental techniques” and “Design experimental techniques for selected problems.”

  • In the current literature, evaluate not just the outcome of the experimental design, but also the appropriateness of specific techniques used, the validity of the data produced, and the accuracy of conclusions reached by the authors.
  • Design and describe alternative experimental approaches that might be used to address the questions more effectively.
  • Comment: The first objective could be summarized as “Critique molecular biomedical research literature.” Course documents would include guidelines for how to critique the literature. Simplify the second objective (and remove the lower level verb) to “Design alternative experimental approaches to those used in the molecular biomedical research literature.”

  • Analyze and critically evaluate the technical details within a paper describing a macromolecular structure or property of the structure.
  • Comment: Again, two verbs, both at a higher level, and redundant. Use “analyze” or “critique” or “evaluate”— select one. “Technical details” could be confusing here. Is the focus on critiquing the research methods described in a paper on a macromolecular structure, critiquing the macromolecular structure itself, or critiquing the property of the structure? It might be rewritten to “Evaluate the research methods of macromolecular research literature.”

Verbs applicable to the six levels in the cognitive domain (according to Bloom’s taxonomy) are from J. E. Kemp, The Instructional Design Process, Harper and Row, NY, 1985:

Knowledge: Recall of information Comprehension: Interpret information in one's own words Application: Apply knowledge or generalization to new situation
Arrange Name Classify Recognize Apply Operate
Define Order Describe Report Choose Prepare
Duplicate Recognize Discuss Restate Demonstrate Practice
Label Relate Explain Review Dramatize Schedule
List Recall Express Select Employ Sketch
Match Repeat Identify Sort Illustrate Solve
Memorize Reproduce Indicate Locate Tell Translate Interpret Use
Analysis: Break down knowledge into parts and show relationship among parts Synthesis: Bring together parts of knowledge to form a whole and build relationships for new situations Evaluation: Make judgments on basis of given criteria
Analyze Differentiate Arrange Manage Appraise Evaluate
Appraise Discriminate Assemble Organize Argue Judge
Calculate Distinguish Collect Plan Assess Predict
Categorize Examine Compose Prepare Attack Rate
Compare Experiment Construct Propose Choose Score
Contrast Inventory Create Set up Compare Select
Criticize Question Design Synthesize Define Support
Diagram Test Formulate Write Estimate Value

In conclusion, our goal is to ensure that our graduate curricula are rigorous and focused on student learning.

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