How to Avoid Common Mistakes When Writing Learning Objectives

Writing Effective Learning Outcomes

Lesson objectives are a key part in the creation of effective lesson plans. In essence, they tell what a teacher actually wants their students to learn as a result of the lesson. More specifically, they provide a guide that allows teachers to ensure that the information being taught is necessary and vital to the goals of the lesson. Further, they give teachers a measure against which to determine student learning and achievement. However, as teachers write learning objectives it is important that they avoid common errors. Following is a list of these common errors along with examples and ideas on how to avoid them.

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The objective is not stated in terms of the student.

Since the point of the objective is to guide the learning and assessment process, it only makes sense that it is written in terms of the learner. However, a common mistake is to write the objective in terms of what the teacher is planning to do in the lesson. An example of this error in an objective written for a Calculus class would be, "The teacher demonstrate how to use a graphing calculator to find the limit of a function."

This error is easily corrected by beginning each objective with a term such as, "The student will..." or "The learner will...."
A better example of this type of objective would be: "The student will use a graphing calculator to find the limit of a function."

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The objective is not something that can be observed or measured.

The point of the objective is to provide the teacher with the ability to tell if the student has actually learned the expected information. However, this is not possible if the objective does not list items that are readily observable or measurable. Example: "Students will know why checks and balances are important." The issue here is that the teacher has no way to measure this knowledge. This objective would be better if written as follows: "The student will be able to explain how the checks and balances of the three branches of government work."

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The objective does not list specific criteria for what is acceptable.

Similar to not being observable or measurable, objectives also need to provide teachers with the criteria which they will use to judge their students' achievements. For example, the following learning outcome would not provide the teacher enough guidance in order to determine whether the objective has, in fact, been met: "The student will know the names and symbols of elements on the periodic table." The problem here is that there are 118 elements on the periodic table. Do the students have to know all of them or just a specific number of them? If a specific number of them, which ones should they know? A better objective would read, "The student will know the names and symbols of the first 20 elements on the periodic table."

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The learning objective is too long or overly complicated.

Overly complicated and wordy learning objectives are not as effective as ones that simply state what students are to learn from the lesson. The best learning objectives consist of simple action verbs and measurable outcomes. Following is a poor example of a wordy objective: "The student will demonstrate an understanding of the battles that occurred during the American Revolution including the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the Battle of Quebec, the Battle of Saratoga, and the Battle of Yorktown." Instead, it would be better to state: "The student will create an illustrated timeline of the major battles of the American Revolution."