Learning objectives exist at various levels and specificity depending on the intended application.
Course-level objectives describe learning that spans the entire course. These are skills, knowledge and behaviors that students will continue to practice and develop over multiple units or weeks.
Course-level objectives can be aligned with even broader program-level objectives or competencies that all courses within that program build toward. Program objectives further align with institutional core values or essential learning outcomes for all students.
Many faculty "chunk" the course content into learning modules or units (i.e., a week's worth of work, a chapter, or a module). Module learning objectives are critical to the overall structure of an online course and serve to focus what's important for the "chunk" or what the student needs to know at the end of a particular instructional event.
Module objectives precisely describe competencies, skills, and knowledge that students must master and demonstrate throughout the course. Some instructors may call these weekly objectives.
These objectives are essential to provide timely focus and clarity so that online students will know what's expected of them and will know what level they are at as they progress through the course. The learning objectives should address content mastery, critical thinking skills, and core learning skills.
Course-level objectives reflect broader learning goals. Module-level objectives reflect a finer specificity of learning that aligns with and scaffolds progress towards course objectives. The number of objectives may vary from course to course and module to module.
For example, in a business marketing course, one of several possible course-level objectives might be:
In the same course, the module-level objectives that align with that course-level objective might be:
Notice how the module-level objectives support the learner to accomplish the course-level objective.
The module objectives should be more specific than the overall course objectives (although there may be some overlap at times). These objectives are stepping-stones to achieving the overall course objectives. Therefore, if you have a higher-level course objective, you may need several lower-level module objectives to build competencies to reach the higher-level course objective.
Consider this example of a course-level learning objective:
Students will be able to articulate the notion of globalization and its multiple dimensions.
A corresponding module-level learning objective could be:
Students will be able to discuss and debate how globalization impacts business operations in the United States.
The module learning objectives should be consistent with the course-level objectives (a principle referred by Quality Matters™ as alignment), and also be written in measurable terms so that the student knows exactly what he or she should learn and so that the instructor has a clear target for assessing learning.
Module objectives may be written by the instructor or taken from the textbook. The unit/module-level objectives should be accessible from within the course—even if they appear in the textbook. Since textbooks often tend to provide too many objectives, select and refine only the objectives you.
The next pages will provide useful strategies for writing learning objectives.