Writing Learning Objectives: Part 2


Measurable Learning Objectives

Part 1 of this series covered how to write three-part learning objectives. Part 2 focuses on making your learning objectives measurable. Thus, the clever tape measure graphic to your left.

What Is Measurable?

Measurable learning objectives are very specific and provide a way for designers to determine if audience members can demonstrate what they have learned. Measurable learning objectives describe observable skills. They are quantifiable. You can write a test question or watch someone perform a measurable learning objective. For example, see the three-part learning objective below.

“Given a large, snarly cat, dispense a pill into the cat’s mouth with a medicine dispenser so that the cat swallows the pill.”

In this objective, the phrase dispense a pill into the cat’s mouth is an observable event. It is measurable—either someone demonstrated this super human skill or they did not. This skill could not be demonstrated in any other way. Even if you saw scratches on the arms and legs of the person dispensing the pill, it would not be observable proof that the pill landed in the cat’s mouth.

Action Verbs Are Good

The way to ensure that a learning objective is measurable is to use an action verb when describing the terminal behavior. Because we cannot see into the brain of the learner, the goal is to find verbs that represent learning or a change in cognitive capacity. The kinds of words that instructional designers like include such words as: identify, recognize, define, select, classify, select, summarize, demonstrate, solve, illustrate, outline, contrast, create and design. You can actually picture someone doing these things.

Protect Your Reputation

In the world of instructional design, the use of non-measurable, non-quantifiable and non-observable words will get you ostracized from the community. The No-No words include: understand, become familiar with, appreciate, become aware of, enjoy, etc. I’m sure you get the idea. When you think of these words, you can see they are not measurable and observable. Do not use these words because I care about your future.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

I really can’t end a discussion on learning objectives without doing you the favor of mentioning Bloom’s Taxonomy. When you are pulling out your hair fishing for action verbs, Benjamin Bloom, the educational psychologist, will come to your rescue. In the 1950s, he and his cohorts classified learning into three domains: Cognitive (knowledge), psychomotor (skills) and Affective (attitude). They then subdivided the Cognitive and Affective categories into behaviors ranging from the the simple to the complex. For example, the Cognitive category consists of these increasingly complex skills: knowledge (recall), comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. For every one of these behaviors, they compiled oodles of action verbs that would work to demonstrate the skill.

Not only is this approach fascinating from a cognition standpoint and worth the time and effort to study, it is also a great way to get out of your learning objective stalemate. Just perform a Google search for “Bloom’s Taxonomy” and as you browse through those 180,000 hits and find just the right action verb for your measurable behavior, you’ll want to thank me. In that case, please forward this article to a friend.

Related Articles:
Writing Learning Objectives: Part 1
Writing Learning Objectives: Part 3

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