Good planning is central to successful teaching - and effective planning requires a clear set of learning objectives.
In order to generate learning objectives, you need first to check the syllabus requirements. These may be expressed in a variety of ways. For example, they may be given as topic headings, or learning outcomes, or competence statements. The precise form varies according to the type of qualification.
In order to understand the uses and characteristics of learning objectives and to be able to write good ones yourself, you first need to understand precisely what a learning objective is.
"A learning objective describes what the learner(s) will have learned after the learning experience that they had not learned before"
Note the focus on the learner and the learners' achievements. Learning objectives describe the intended learning outcomes, not the planned teaching activities. However, this definition still leaves a wide range of alternative ways in which the objectives might be expressed. A particularly helpful approach is to write "behavioural" objectives.
These describe the objectives in the form of what the learner will be able to "do" after the learning experience. This gives a revised definition as: 'A behavioural learning objective describes what the learner(s) will be able to "do" after the learning experience that they could not "do " before.'
The term 'do' in the definition is to be understood, in the broadest sense, to include anything that the learner might do which we can see, hear or feel. Any learning is, in principle, capable of being demonstrated even where it is an internal mental state that is the result of the learning. For example, the learner might say something, or write something, or perform a physical task that shows dearly that they have acquired some internal accomplishment. The advantage of expressing learning objectives in this way is that both the teacher and the learner can be clear about whether the objective has been achieved. From now on, whenever we use the term 'learning objective' we will be referring to behavioural objectives. A problem that new teachers often encounter when writing learning objectives is that they express the objectives in a form that cannot be shown through the learner's behaviour. For example, suppose you were aiming to teach a set of geographical facts, say about the location and size of capital cities. You might express the objective as: 'By the end of this session you (i.e. the learner) will "know" about the capital cities listed in the syllabus.'
The difficulty is that the term 'know' describes a purely mental event and does not give any direct indication of how you or the learner will know that they know! Also, the term is open-ended and does not tell you how much information the learners are to acquire. You may be expecting an encyclopaedic knowledge or just some basic facts - the objective simply does not say. It therefore does not help either you or the learner to decide what is to be learned, or how you will know it has been learned.
Your objective would be more useful if you expressed it in the form of something the learners will be able to do. So, what will they be able to 'do' after learning the information, that they couldn't do before? There are a number of possibilities, but an example would be that they could match a list of cities against a list of locations and population sizes which is arranged randomly. This ability might then become the basis for generating and agreeing the learning objective. The revised objective might be written as: 'By the end of this session you will be able to recall the location and population sizes of the listed capital cities.' This is an objective that learners can demonstrate. It gives a clear indication of the extent and depth of the knowledge required. This is quite a simple, recall-based objective. The following activity will help you to develop your ability to generate...
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