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Developing Measurable Course Objectives

Your course objectives (a.k.a. learning outcomes or instructional objectives) state behaviors that the student will be able to do as a result of your instruction.  The objectives must be both observable (since we cannot see inside the student's brain) and measurable (since we must be able to assess how well the student can perform this behavior).

For example, the following objectives are NOT observable or measurable:

  • The student will learn how to use a graphing calculator.
  • The student will know the difference between a fragment and a complete sentence.

These might be fine goals for courses, but how will you know the student learned the skill or knows the difference and how will you measure her proficiency?

Examples of objectives that ARE observable and measurable:

  • The student will use a graphing calculator to solve systems of linear equations.
  • The student will use a graphing calculator to identify the vertex, axis of symmetry and intercepts of a quadratic equation.
  • The student will classify sentences as fragments or complete and make corrections to fragments to create complete sentences.
  • The student will edit his or her own writing to identify and correct sentence fragments.

In summary, course goals are broad, while objectives are specific and can be observed and measured.  Three questions to ask yourself after writing an objective:

  • Does it clearly state what the student is to do?
  • Can I observe the behavior?
  • Can I measure the behavior?

When writing an objective, avoid verbs such as "learn", "appreciate", "understand" or "know."  These would require us to pry open a student's brain to see what's going on.  Instead, choose verbs that are observable and measurable, such as "classify", "define", "identify", "describe", "outline", "assemble", "explain", "list", "state" or "write." 

Resource: List of Measurable Verbs Used to Assess Learning Outcomes