9 Writing Learning Objectives

D is for Design. We have now completed the Analysis phase of ADDIE and we are moving into the Design phase.

In the design phase, we use all the information we collected during the analysis phase to start designing the instruction.

The first thing we will do is to use the information we have collected to create learning objectives.

Learning objectives, the topic you’ve all been waiting for. We now shift a little and our thinking from analyzing the performance context, to looking at the learning context.

There are lots of different names for objectives. And Dick and Carey like to break them out into different kinds of objectives. The process works regardless of what you call the objective. This is perhaps one of the more valuable parts of designing instruction. So it’s often the part that many instructors are taught. But as you’ve already learned through the goal and context analysis so much is left out if you start with learning objectives.

When presented to students, I think of learning objectives as advanced organizers (this is a term that is used within cognitive learning theory) – Giving students an advanced organizer helps them figure out what’s relevant and not relevant when they receive new information.

Goals vs. Objectives

I’m often asked what’s the difference between a goal and objective.

The biggest is that the goal is set in the performance context. The question I often ask is what does someone who does this successfully already do? That is the goal. For example, Instructional designers use the Dick and Carey method of instructional systems design to create an instructional design document.

Objectives, on the other hand, are set in the learning context and are typically specific to a single lesson. What do you want your students to do by the end of the lesson? How will you, as the teacher, and your students know they have achieved that goal?

For example,
After completing this lesson, learners will be able to articulate the difference between goals and objectives.

Types of Learning Objectives

Types of Learning Objectives

Dick and Carey divide learning objectives into the terminal objective and the subordinate objectives. The relationship between the types of objectives and the instruction goal is described as:

“The goal is a statement of what students will be able to do in the performance context … The goal is rephrased as a terminal objective describing what students will be able to do in the learning context, and subordinate objectives describe the building-block skills that students must master on their way to achieving the terminal objective” (Dick, Carey, & Carey, 2014, p.119).

Further a given objective might be classified as:

  • Performance objectives – those related to performing a physical skills
  • Learning objective – those related to verbal information or intellectual knowledge
  • Behavioral objective – those related to changes in attitude or behavior

The type of objective doesn’t matter – the process for creating them is the same.

Where Do You Get Your Learning Objectives?

Your learning objectives should be derived directly from your task analysis. Typically, your goal analysis provides you with high level tasks that can be written as learning objectives. These would be examples of terminal objectives. These objectives typically use the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy.

Recall in the task analysis, that you looked at what the learner needed to know. These are usually learning objectives, sometimes also called subordinate objectives. These are the objectives that are needed in order to complete the upper level objectives. These often use the lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Example: Performance Objectives

Instructional Goal: Instructional designers need to be able to effectively evaluate new technologies using a minimal amount of time.

Goal Analysis Performance objective
1. Set a timeline for the evaluation. No objective required.
2. Write out evaluation criteria. Given a tool category and evaluation purpose, learners will be able to write and least five different evaluation criteria.
3. Search for several tools that meet the criteria. Given a tool category and evaluation purpose, learners will be able to use a search engine such as Google to find at least three tools to evaluate.
4. Choose one tool and evaluate against criteria. Given evaluation criteria, learners will be able to evaluate at least three tools.
5. Create a journal entry outlining findings. Given evaluation criteria and access to at least three tools, learners will be able to write a short report outlining their evaluation findings.
6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 with other tools. No objective required.
7. Stop when time ends. No objective required.

Example: Subordinate Objectives

Performance Objective:

Given a tool category and evaluation purpose, learners will be able to write and least five different evaluation criteria.

Subordinate Objectives:

    1. Learners will be able to write an evaluation goal statement.
    2. Learners will be able to identify the purpose of the tools being evaluated.
    3. Learners will be able to identify three tools to be evaluated.
    4. Learners will be able to find current tool reviews.
    5. Learners will be able to filter search results by date.
    6. Learners will be able to identify the audience of the evaluation.
    7. Learners will be able to discover what common tasks are done with the selected tools.
    8. Learners will be able to document evaluation exit criteria.


Writing Learning Objectives


The mnemonic – ABCD – helps remember the different parts to a learning objective.

AUDIENCE – Who will be doing the behavior?

BEHAVIOR – What should the learner be able to do?

CONDITIONS – Under what conditions do you want the learner to be able to do it?

DEGREE – How well must it be done?

For EXAMPLE – Instructional design students will be able to write learning objectives with the aid of this document 100% of the time.

Note that when the degree is 100% of the time, that part of the statement is not required because it is implied that if you do not include a number here, the number is 100%.

Note that learning objectives do not describe how you with teach.

Validating Your Learning Objectives


A mnemonic that is used to validate learning objectives is SMART.

Are you learning objectives:

S – Specific – What do you want learners to do? Is it observable?

M – Measurable – How will you know it is done successfully?

A – Achievable – Do the learners have the prior knowledge and skills necessary?

R – Relevant – Is the objective relevant to the course or lesson goal?

T – Time-Bound – When will it be done?


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Foundations of Instructional Design by Rebecca J. Hogue is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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