There’s no question that learning in any capacity is a good thing, but implementing objectives can help both students and educators by providing more structure and direction to the learning journey.
In the simplest terms, a learning objective establishes what a student should be able to do once a course or project has been completed. Importantly, learning objectives are specific and measurable, which makes it possible for educators to assess the success of their teaching methods and to measure their students’ progress.
In this guide to learning objectives, we’re diving into the importance of this educational strategy, as well as tackling how to craft learning objectives, with expert insights from Sphero Education Content Manager Chris McCormick.
The Benefits of Learning Objectives
There are a number of advantages to taking this structured learning approach in the classroom. “The first and probably most obvious benefit is that it makes the goals and expectations for learning clear to the student,” Chris McCormick explains. “However, the most important benefit comes from the planning process that is rooted in those objectives.” In other words, setting clear learning objectives can help educators craft relevant lesson plans to advance students toward their goals.
Key Considerations When Creating Learning Objectives
Setting learning objectives is an important part of lesson or project planning, as it influences the types of instruction and assessment tactics teachers use. Before diving in, however, there are a few key things that should be taken into consideration. As Chris points out, “a learning objective might change depending on the age of students and context.” He, therefore, recommends that teachers ask themselves the following questions as they start setting learning objectives:
- What background knowledge is required to meet a specific learning objective?
- Could there be a knowledge gap for some students and what can I do to address it?
- Do I have the resources necessary to meet the objectives? If not, can I adjust the objectives to accommodate resource limitations?
- What will the assessment look like? Is there strong alignment between the objectives, instruction, application, and assessment?
- And finally, how will I know when students have met the objective? What do I do for students who were unable to meet the objective?
These questions can help educators as they create a clear pathway for their students to attain their learning objectives while also taking into consideration the fact that each student is unique and is coming to the classroom with different experiences and knowledge.
Case Study: Setting a Learning Objective for Coding
To fully illustrate what goes into setting a learning objective, we’re going to walk through the process using a programming lesson on variables as our case study. This example is based on a Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) science standard for students ages 11-14.
In its standard, the CSTA states that students should be able to “create clearly named variables that represent different data types and perform operations on their values.” This offers educators a general idea of their goal, but also leaves room for more specificity.
Chris suggests that a good place to start is to use smaller learning objectives to tackle the standard. “Standards generally encompass several different sub-skills. This does not mean that everything needs to be introduced at once, so I need to determine which part of the standard I want to focus on, based on where we are as a class.”
To get there, it’s good to take a step-by-step approach, breaking the learning process into bite-sized pieces that increase in complexity. In the case of this coding standard, a teacher might use some of the following learning objectives.
- Identify the following data types: Boolean, String, Integer, and Float;
- Define the term “variable” and describe how variables are used in Python;
- Create a variable and assign it a value in Python;
- Create a variable in Python and assign it a string value;
- Create two variables in Python and assign different integers to each;
- Use two variables to create and solve an additional problem.
It’s also important to remain flexible with learning objectives and to accommodate students as needed. As Chris points out, “For some classes with solid background knowledge in coding, the first few objectives might be a breeze, while other classes might need more time in order to be successful.”
Assessing Learning Objectives
Assessments are also an essential part of achieving learning objectives and it’s important not only to use them at the end of a given lesson or project but also to assess students throughout the process. “Ideally, we would have an initial assessment to gauge student understanding and inform our planning process, then small touch points throughout the lesson to track progress, and a final assessment to measure learning from beginning to end,” Chris adds.
If we use the coding example from above, this assessment technique could consist of giving a quick multiple choice quiz asking students what a “variable” is, what data types they know, etc. Based on quiz results, you can decide to move the class forward to the next stage or see whether certain students need additional instruction, perhaps in a smaller group setting.
Ultimately, integrating assessments into learning objectives will not only help educators to see how well students are meeting objectives but also provides helpful insights into how teaching methods can be improved. “One thing to keep in mind is that learning objectives should not be used as a judgment: they are a goal. If learners aren’t able to meet objectives in one lesson, it’s not an indictment of them, it’s an indication that we need to spend more time exploring the concept or adjust our approach,” Chris concludes.
For more education resources and support developing computer science learning objectives, check out Sphero’s Computer Science Foundations, a standards-aligned supplemental curriculum for K-12.