How Learning Objectives Can Actually Make Your Class Fun

I remember blocking out a lot of the “edu-speak” as an undergraduate training to be a teacher. “Learning Objectives” was one phrase that I ignored. Now, 10 years later, I see how much learning objectives can actually unlock student potential and actually learning fun.

Every single teacher can have a freer class that is more fun and more engaging if the class has clear learning objectives. Learning objectives are important in traditional classes but even more so with blended classes.

In a blended class, learning objectives help you decide how many activities or assessments to design. Designing online lessons take time and you need to make sure your work is having the biggest impact. Also, learning objectives focus your student on learning and not just the assessment. All of a sudden, conversations between you and students will change from “you need to learn this for the quiz” to “you need know this so you can show me you know (insert topic/skill).” If you run a gamified class, learning objectives are the missions or quests you send your students on.

In every case, clear learning objectives are the key to freeing your teaching from traditional expectations and methods. This is no joke. I know it sounds like one of those impossible, education, sketchy, sales pitch promises but stay with me.

Learning Objectives vs Learning Outcomes

I know you are a trained teacher but let’s define “learning objective” just so we can be on the same page.

Learning Objective: The desired measurable objective(s) (skill/knowledge) students will achieve upon course completion.

These learning objectives can be skill based or content based. I spent the summer of 2014 designing content and skill based learning objectives for my 9th grade world history class. I have used these ever since and they have changed my teaching entirely.

One example of a skill based learning objective is:

Argument: I can create effective written or oral historical arguments

I basically took a common core standard and made it student-friendly. A content objective would be:

I can identify the importance and outcomes that communication tools and methods can play in spreading revolutionary ideas.”

To see my entire list of content and skill learning objectives click here.

Learning Objectives vs Learning Outcomes

Similar to a learning objective is a “learning outcome”.

Learning Outcome: The means through which students will demonstrate proficiency in learning and realizing the objectives established for the course.

This is basically how you will measure the learning objectives. These are your quizzes, projects, presentations, assignments…etc.

Let’s temporarily ignore your learning outcomes/assignments. You need to do this if you want to really set your class free. I don’t mean scrap them, but we need really focus on creating your learning objectives.

How Learning Objectives Will Free Your Teaching

I always hated teaching the Scientific Revolution. I am a history teacher and I can try to make most things interesting but teaching the Scientific Revolution and the European Enlightenment to a bunch of 14 year olds isn’t exactly easy. My state and district standards require I teach facts but as the teacher, it is my job to convey the larger meaning of it. I felt trapped by trying to teach challenging intellectual history to students who couldn’t always see its importance.

In order to draw out the importance, I designed my learning objective:

I can identify the importance and outcomes that communication tools and methods can play in spreading revolutionary ideas.”

And then worked backwards. The unit on the Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment didn’t just become about a vocabulary quiz or a writing assignment. My entire 2 week unit became centered on helping students to demonstrate their proficiency of that learning objective. It didn’t really matter if students showed their knowledge on a quiz, in a test, or a project. In all of those cases, the learning objective remained the same.

Design your learning objective and you and your students are free to reach that objective any way you want. Experiment with technology or projects. Offer options. It doesn’t matter what students create because you are the one giving the grade and feedback. You are the expert. You, as the teacher, can decide if what the students created demonstrates understanding.

Design Tip: Don’t Target  “Understanding”

A helpful tip when designing your learning objective is to never make it “to understand”. You can’t measure “understanding”. You can measure learning through demonstration. So when designing your learning objectives for your course, decide on how students can physically demonstrate understanding of a topic/skill. Maybe you want them to present, or explain, or create.

If you need help, use Bloom’s Taxonomy to decide actions for your content/skills you want students to demonstrate through your lessons.

Last Thoughts

I know this sounds like more “edu-speak”. More false promises…but they’re not. Designing clear learning objectives for your course saves you time, keeps students focused, and frees you to teach and assess however you can to help students learn.

Question: What questions do you have about designing learning objectives for your blended class and online lessons?

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