Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Why I Believe in the Sanctity of Learning Objectives (or Outcomes)

In a Twitter thread a few months ago, participants questioned the need for learning outcomes (or objectives) in teaching and training. To me, they’re indispensable. Here's why.

First, learning objectives serve as guideposts for my class or workshop. I’ve found that unless you know where you’re going it’s easy to veer off track. Learning objectives provide a roadmap. They help instructor and participate alike focus on what's most important. Besides, no matter how much time you have as an instructor or workshop leader, it’s never enough. There’s always a lot more material you could include. Therefore, you must constantly decide what material to cover and what to leave out.  Learning objectives can help guide you as you make these often difficult decisions. 

Equally important, learning objectives provide a means of accountability. Share them at the outset. Then, use them as touchstones for assessing engagement and learning throughout the course. Finally, as part of your assessment at the end of the program, you can use learning objectives as a baseline. Invite participants to consider the relative success in achieving each learning outcome. Ask them to consider which activities best contributed to their learning experiences. Invite suggestions for alternatives. You can't help but gain critical insight into the overall success of your program. More importantly, you'll benefit from fresh perspectives. These can only improve your teaching and student learning.  

Universities typically provide learning objectives or outcomes for each course. Faculty develop, vet, and approve them. Each set of course learning objectives supports broader program or degree learning outcomes. So you might say as a faculty member, one has little choice but to keep them. That said, they're more than mere window dressing for me. I rely on them every day as I plan and assess learning activities.  I would no sooner jettison them than I would agree to (yet another) root canal on my two front teeth.  

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