How to Write Learning Objectives for Online Courses

Clearly defined and measurable learning objectives are one of the easiest ways to motivate your students to complete your online course.

Having the end goal top of mind will help keep them focused and engaged. When done well, effective learning objectives will naturally guide your students through your course material.

In this post, we’ll walk you through the process of writing learning objectives for online courses, and how to effectively leverage them to increase retention and engagement with your course material.

Let’s start by getting clear on what a learning outcome/objective is so you can effectively craft them for your online courses.

What Are Learning Objectives?

A learning objective provides clarity to students about what they will gain from your online course.

Your learning objectives should be brief, but clearly define what students will be able to do at the end of a lesson or course as a result of the activities and training that takes place throughout the course.

You may have even heard of learning objectives referred to as learning outcomes. They are one and the same, but the ultimate goal is to ensure your students have clearly defined expectations so they are able to prioritize their learning efforts.

The clearer you are when describing the outcomes they can expect, the more motivated they will be to achieve these outcomes.

Use Bloom’s Taxonomy to Define Learning Objectives

Bloom's taxonomy: cognitive, psychomotor and affective domains

Photo Credit: ResearchGate

When writing your learning objectives, there are three common outcomes you should base your objectives on. These three domains of educational activities were defined by a committee of colleges led by Benjamin Bloom.

These three domains are affective, psychomotor, and cognitive – most commonly known as attitude, skills, and knowledge, respectively.

As you prepare to write your learning outcomes or objectives, get clear on the goals and changes that your students should expect as a result of your teachings and make note whether they are attitude, skills, or knowledge-based objectives.

Keep reading to discover which type of objectives you should use for your online courses.

1. Attitude-based Learning Objectives

According to Bloom’s taxonomy, affective or attitude-based objectives are focused on changes in how a student behaves or acts.

While your online course or training could be life-changing, these types of learning outcomes can be some of the hardest to define since they deal with an individual’s point of view or emotions.

Learning objectives crafted based on attitude changes tend to be more subjective in nature.

If your online course or training focuses on one’s emotional well-being, changes in mindset, compliance, or diversity training – your objectives would fall into this category.

2. Skills-based Learning Objectives

Skills-based learning objectives, according to Bloom’s taxonomy are easily measurable. These objectives will be written to define a student’s goal based on acquiring a new skill or improving an existing skill.

Using measurable learning objectives make it easy for a student to track their progress and set goals.

Skills-based learning outcomes are common for how-to courses and online training.

If your course or training focuses on improving an action that you perform, skills-based objectives are most ideal.

These could be used in courses that teach you how to play the piano, cut your hair, speak another language or how to garden.

3. Knowledge-based Learning Objectives

In Bloom’s taxonomy, a knowledge-based objective is used when your online course or lesson is intended to increase the amount of knowledge the student has on a subject matter.

Knowledge-based objectives are ideal when the goal of your training is to build on or impart knowledge about a certain topic to help the student make informed choices or understand concepts and theories that can be applied in different areas of their lives.

For example, an online course or training that educates individuals about harmful or toxic ingredients would impart knowledge that the student can use to make educated decisions about what products they buy and use.

Effective online course creators use one or more of the domains in Bloom’s taxonomy as a foundation for writing their learning objectives.

Writing Learning Objectives

woman writing learning objectives

Once you’ve identified which type of learning objectives will best support your students, it’s time to start writing them.

Word choices are important, so choosing an action verb that best describes the behavior or competency you want your students to have is a big component of your learning objective.

You’ll want to be sure the verbs you choose can be measured and aren’t too generalized. Remember your learning objectives should be clear and specific.

A few examples of words or phrases you’ll want to avoid using in your learning objectives are “believe”, “understand”, “have an appreciation for”, and “familiar with”. These words and phrases aren’t specific and leave your results open to interpretation.

Popular Verbs to Use in Learning Objectives

Verbs for Attitude-Based Learning Objectives

Advocate • Accept • Agree • Allow • Analyze • Approve • Assess • Choose • Collaborate • Comply • Conform • Convince • Cooperate • Decide To • Defend • Empathize • Endorse • Evaluate • Listen • Pick • Recommend • Respond • Support • Tolerate • Volunteer

Verbs for Knowledge-Based Learning Objectives

Compare • Convert • Defend • Define • Describe • Designate • Discover • Distinguish • Estimate • Explain • Identify • Generalize • Infer • Itemize • Label • List • Match • Name • Predict • Recite • Recognize • Recount • Relate • Reproduce • Select • Specify • Spell Out • State • Summarize • Tell • Translate • Write

Verbs for Skill-Based Learning Objectives

Adjust • Administer • Align • Alter • Assemble • Build • Calibrate • Change • Copy • Demonstrate • Design • Develop • Draft • Execute • Form • Handle • Make • Manipulate • Measure • Mend • Operate • Perform • Place • Prepare • Process • Record • Regulate • Remove • Repair • Replace • Set • Service

You can find a comprehensive list of verbs here.

Evaluate Your Learning Objectives

Once you write your learning outcomes, use the ABCD test to review and evaluate them. Your objectives should include the following four components.

The A, B, C, Ds of Learning Objectives

Audience

Your audience is the person who is participating in the course, the individual or group doing the learning.

Behavior

This is what your audience will be doing as a result of your online course or training. This is where your action verb comes into play.

Condition

In your learning objective, the condition is the part that describes the situation your audience will now be able to perform.

Degree of Mastery

This part of the objective defines the change of behavior to be expected at the level you define.

Refine Your Learning Objectives

Once you’ve drafted your learning outcomes and objectives, label each piece in them to ensure you’ve included all four components. If you have, your objectives are complete.

If you’re missing one or more of these elements, revisit until each objective contains all four.

Once you have your outcomes clearly defined, and they pass the ABCD test, it’s time to dive into course design to ensure you create an effective learning environment for your students, especially if you are teaching an online course.

Keep Learning Objectives Front and Center for Students

Screenshot showing checklist

While your learning objectives serve as benchmarks for a student’s comprehension and mastery of your online course material and teachings, it can be easy for them to lose sight of their goals, especially if your course is rather comprehensive.

To help increase engagement and motivate your students to complete your course you can break your learning outcomes down into small checklists. These checklists help add visibility to their measurable learning objectives.

Objective checklists are one of the most popular features in our LMS, AccessAlly.

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Checklists are also a way to build in assessment points throughout the student learning experience, to help ensure retention.

You can even add quiz assessments and course progress tracking to help students stay and on track and motivated as they work towards completion of your online course or training.

Start with writing your big goals for your online course and break them down into bite-sized pieces for each module or lesson within the course.

Design Your Online Course With Learning Objectives

progress tracking examples within a membership site

When building your online course, find a platform or plugin that makes it easy to design your student learning experience with your objectives baked right into the course design. Using a full-featured LMS plugin such as AccessAlly will make this easy for you.

Having objective checklists, quizzes, or other forms of assessments to track progress and comprehension throughout the course instead of just at the end of the course will help ensure comprehension of the material and keep your students engaged.

If the platform or plugin you use to build your online course doesn’t include these features, your student success rates could be at risk.

Review our list of comprehensive LMS comparisons to help you find a solution that will best support your course structure and online course goals.

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