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How to Write Effective Learning Objectives

Often Maligned, Learning Objectives Are the Educator’s Best Friend

by Bob Shively, Enerdynamics President and Lead Facilitator

Mention learning objectives in a room full of learners and there’s often a collective cringe. Sadly, learning objectives have a reputation of being a boring checklist presented at the beginning of a class or online course. But when written correctly, learning objectives presented prior to a course are useful for students to evaluate whether the training is right for them. When presented during a course, effective learning objectives can help students determine and prioritize their focus throughout the course. Let’s discuss how course designers can write effective learning objectives to create focused training that delivers the desired result.

The key to writing and defining effective learning objectives is to be very clear about what students will successfully be able to do after completing a course. This means objectives must state a measurable outcome following the course. TeachOnline from Arizona State University suggests a four-step process to writing measurable learning objectives. This process is equally applicable to online or live training development. As we go through each step and guideline for writing learning objectives, we will use examples for an online course we are developing titled Introduction to Distributed Energy Resources (DERs).

Guidelines for Writing Learning Objectives

1. Identify the noun, or noun-based phrase, you want students to learn more about.

Each noun or phrase describes a topic in the course. These often are listed in course outlines. For one of our learning objectives, the noun-phrase we identified was “types of DERs including demand side management, distributed generation, and distributed storage.”

2. Using Bloom’s Taxonomy, identify the category of knowledge you want.

Bloom’s Taxonomy describes six categories of cognitive learning. These categories help choose actionable verbs that can be measured through testing:

Category Explanation
Remembering (knowledge) Ability to recall material
Understanding (Comprehension) Ability to graph meaning, explain, or restate ideas
Applying (Application) Ability to use material in new situation
Analyzing (Analysis) Ability to show relationships between parts of material or determine expected outcomes
Evaluating (Evaluation) Ability to make judgements on the worth of conclusions given stated criteria
Creating (Synthesis) Ability to put together ideas from material to form new relationships or concepts

3. Select a verb that is measurable and that describes a desired behavior at the appropriate level of Bloom’s Taxonomy

Since we had three categories of DERs we decided that it was important for students to be able to determine what category includes a given distributed resource (demand side management, distributed generation, or distributed storage). So, we chose the word “classify.” Selecting verbs is often the hardest part of the setting up learning objectives. One good source is the verb wheel provided by Arizona State:

verb wheel for objective writing

Source: Arizona State University

4. Add additional criteria to indicate how or when the outcome will be observable to add context for the student.

When developing our course, we wanted students to recognize the type of DER if they hear it discussed in a meeting or see it in a document as well as when observing the DER in the field. So, our objective became “When reading about, discussing, or observing a DER, the participant will be able to classify the DER into the categories of demand side management, distributed generation, or distributed storage.” This learning objective is measurable and tells the course designer exactly what the material needs to train the learner to do.

If you are just getting started with learning objectives or want to improve existing ones, Arizona State provides a great tool to help you. It is called the RadioJames Objective Builder, and will walk you through each step on how to write measurable learning objectives.

Developing solid learning objectives takes up-front time and thought, which can be challenging to course designers who just want to start laying out material. But we can assure you that the time spent is well worth it and will result in better courses and much less time wasted rewriting materials if you aren’t achieving what you expected. And you’ll likely end up with effective learning objectives that even students find valuable!


Interesting in Enerdynamics large library of live and online energy courses developed using this method?  Visit us at or reach us at or 866-765-5432 ext. 700.

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