Lesson 6 - Writing ObjectivesLesson 6 Readings
By now you've assessed your needs to determine the skills and knowledge you want your learners to acquire. Then you wrote an appropriate, feasible, and clearly stated instructional goal. After that you analyzed that goal to identify substeps, subordinate skills, and entry behaviors. Finally, you analyzed the learners, the performance context, and the learning context. At this point you are finished with the analysis phase of instructional design. The next step in the Dick and Carey instructional design model is to write a list of objectives for your goal based on all this information you have gathered. In the ASSURE model, this would be the second step (State Objectives).
Writing objectives is the best-known component of the instructional design model. Chapter 6 in the Dick and Carey book describes the process of writing objectives. This process works best as a component of a complete instructional design model as opposed to on its own. You need the information from the needs assessment, the goal analysis, the instructional analysis, and the learner and context analyses to be able write effective objectives. The objectives are then in turn carried over to subsequent stages of the instructional design process so that they influence all future design decisions. A set of clear objectives will give you a sound basis for selecting or developing instructional materials, as well as a means for evaluating whether or not your instruction has been successful. You can also use them in your instruction to inform the learners of what they will be expected to learn. Informing learners of the objectives can help provide more learner control and also help students link new knowledge to old knowledge.
Overview of Objectives
What is an objective? According to Dick and Carey, a performance objective is a detailed description of what students will be able to do when they complete a unit of instruction. It is also referred to as a behavioral objective or an instructional objective. Robert Mager, in his book Preparing Instructional Objectives, describes an objective as "a collection of words and/or pictures and diagrams intended to let others know what you intend for your students to achieve" (pg. 3). An objective does not describe what the instructor will be doing, but instead the skills, knowledge, and attitudes that the instructor will be attempting to produce in learners. This is a very important distinction. Mager emphasizes the need for clear, precise statements of what students should be able to do when they complete their instruction. He believes that this should be done before any development work is started.
Objectives are derived from the skills you identified in the instructional analysis. Generally you should write one or more objectives for each skill listed in your instructional analysis, including your entry behaviors. Objectives can be skills (intellectual or motor), knowledge, or attitudes. Worthwhile objectives are statements of behaviors representing:
How does an objective compare to a goal statement? Well, the goal statement is a much broader statement of what students will be able to do after completing a set of instructional materials, and includes a real-world (performance) context outside of the learning situation. Objectives are much more specific, and describe a context within the learning situation. They are therefore better to use as the basis for planning instructional activities. If a goal statement is written in the form of an objective it then becomes the terminal objective. The terminal objective has all of the components of a performance objective, but its conditions reflect the context that will be available in the learning environment as opposed to the performance environment.
Three Components of an Effective Objective
Before attempting to write your own objectives, it's important to understand what an objective should and shouldn't contain. According to Mager (1997), there are three main components of an effective objective:
The Performance component is a description of the behavior that learners are expected to perform. It should be measurable and observable. It describes what the learner will be doing when demonstrating mastery of an objective. Mager distinguishes between two types of performances - visible and invisible. With a visible performance the main intent is visible or audible. For example,
In each of these instances you can tell when somebody is performing the task. If a statement does not include a visible performance then it isn't yet an objective. Therefore, you should modify each of your objectives until it answers the question, "What will the learner be DOING when demonstrating achievement of the objective?"
Here are a couple of poor examples:
If you apply the question above, what would somebody be doing if they were "understanding" mathematics or "appreciating" music? There's really no way to tell as both of those statements describe abstract states that are not directly observable.
Here are some good examples:
What would someone be doing if they were demonstrating mastery of these objectives? Well, in the first case they would be riding a bike, and in the second case they would be writing a letter. Those are easily identifiable behaviors.
The Conditions component of an objective is a description of the circumstances under which the performance will be carried out. It also includes a description of what will be available to learners when they perform the desired behavior. Specifying the conditions further helps to prevent misunderstanding of your intent. For example, if you are given the objective:
You could probably do that - if you were on a plane. However, what if the objective were stated like this?
Those two might be a little more difficult, or impossible. In both cases the conditions of the objective make it clear what the intent is. In order to avoid any confusion regarding your objective you should state the main condition under which the performance will occur. In order to identify key conditions, ask yourself the following:
Here are some examples of conditions:
Here are some examples of objectives with conditions:
The final component of an effective objective is the Criterion. The criterion is a description of the criteria for acceptance of a performance as sufficient, indicating mastery of the objective. In other words, how well must it be done? Stating the criterion lets learners know how well they will have to perform to be considered competent. In addition, it provides a standard against which to test the success of the instruction, and gives you a way of evaluating whether or not the learners can, in fact, do what you set out to teach them.
The criterion you specify should be what you consider to be the desired or appropriate level of performance, not necessarily minimum level. In some cases (a person stitching up clothes), a certain amount of error might be acceptable, while in other cases (a doctor stitching up a person), no error is acceptable. In addition, you should only impose criteria that are important.
Here's an example of an objective with criteria:
There are two main ways to define a criterion of acceptable performance: Speed and Accuracy
Here's an example of an objective containing all three components:
A poorly written objective dealing with the same topic would be "The students will know how to tell time."
Writing Your Own Objectives
Dick and Carey provide several steps to follow when writing objectives:
Remember that a usefully stated objective is one that succeeds in communicating an intended instructional result to the reader. It is useful to the extent that it conveys to others a picture of what a successful learner will be able to do; and to the extent that the picture it conveys is identical to the picture the objective writer had in mind. When you finish writing an objective, stop to look at it and ask yourself why you want students to be able to do what you've described in the objective. If the answer is, "Because that is one of the things they need to be able to do when they leave here," then the objective is probably acceptable. However, if the answer is, "So that they will be able to _____________," and you fill in the blank with something other than what the objective describes, then it may be describing a teaching procedure. If this is the case, try reworking it.
Points to Keep in Mind When Writing Objectives
Mager describes three important issues to consider when writing objectives:
Let's take a closer look at each of these points.
Outcomes vs. Process
Teaching and lecturing is part of the process of instruction, but it isn't the purpose of the instruction. The purpose is to facilitate learning. When writing objectives, make sure you are describing the intended results, and not the process. The following are descriptions of the process, rather than of the intended results:
Specific vs. General
If your objectives are not specific enough, then they are pretty much useless for their intended purpose. They need to be specific so that they will help you to make sound instructional decisions later in the ID process. Here are some fuzzy statements:
Here are some statements that are clearer:
With the specific statements you would easily be able to determine if someone has met the objective.
Measurable vs. Unmeasurable
Measurable objectives describe tangible outcomes that can be observed. The statement above that states "tie a shoe" is measurable because we can watch someone tie a shoe and determine if they have met the objective. The statement "understand energy" is not measurable. How would we know if someone understood the concept of energy? This would need to be broken down into much more specific, observable behaviors.
Students vs. Instructors
The last point is that instructional objectives should describe the student's performance rather than the instructor's performance. Here are some that relate to the instructor's performance:
Here are some that relate to the student's performance. These examples relate to specific, measurable student outcomes:
This objective is not related to outcomes, it is too broad, and is concerned with the teaching process instead of the learning process.
More About the Wording of Objectives
One of the biggest problems with poorly written objectives is the choice of words used to indicate the type of performance expected. In the example above, "will know how to tell time" is not a clear enough statement of what the learners will actually be doing. There are many slippery words that are open to a wide range of interpretation when writing objectives. It is important not to use broad or vague terms when trying to convey a specific instructional intent, or you leave yourself open to misinterpretation. The following chart lists some of the most common unclear words used in goals and objectives, as well as more specific, better alternatives.
When looking over your objectives, ask yourself if you could observe someone doing the behavior. It's hard to observe someone knowing or understanding. If any of your objectives contain these vague words, rewrite them to include verbs that actually describe the intended behavior. What you want to do is state how learners are going to demonstrate that they know or understand the skills. Try using words from the list on the right.
To help you in writing your own objectives, here is a chart listing the categories of learning (from Lesson 3) along with some of the more common verbs used when writing objectives for that category:
The following represent some poorly written objectives taken from a number of commercially produced instructional materials:
Another common problem with objectives is the use of superfluous wording that often makes the actual performance fuzzy. For example, using "Students will learn how to..." tends to emphasize the teaching rather than the learning (permanent change in behavior). Another common problem with poorly worded objectives is the description of instruction as part of the condition. These objectives might state, "After viewing a filmstrip..." or "Given a math worksheet..." and then indicate that students will be given some type of instruction. Things like instructional procedures, descriptions of the target audience, or format requirements are not useful and should be left out of objectives. For example, look at the following statement:
This statement does not serve a useful purpose, and is limiting. An instructor might be able to accomplish the same thing in one lecture, or some students may not need any lecture to achieve the goal. The objective should only be concerned with student outcomes. Here are some more poor examples, this time with improved versions:
After generating a list of objectives, you will be ready to move to subsequent stages of the instructional design process, including the creation of assessment items and the development of instructional activities. It is important to begin with determining the objectives, and then decide on the most effective activities, NOT the other way around. Too often teachers decide that they have a really neat activity they want to do and have little idea of what objectives that activity will meet. It may be that the activity meets no relevant objectives, in which case the difficult decision may have to be made to eliminate the activity. This is not entirely bad, though, because it opens up the possibility of new, more relevant activities being created that do address the objectives.
As stated earlier, oftentimes teachers are presented with prewritten goals (such as the SOLs). Additionally, many times they will also have access to lists of objectives. If this is the case, you should check to see if those objectives are representative of the objectives you want your students to attain, or what they are expected to attain.
In summary, to prepare a useful, well-written objective, make sure these questions are answered:
Let's go back to our example of teaching students how to use the AltaVista search engine to perform research. Here's another look at the completed instructional analysis:
Here is a list of objectives that were written based on the analysis. Notice that the numbers of the objectives match the numbers in the flowchart for each substep or subordinate skill. Also, since goal step 1.0 was identified as an entry behavior, we have not written objectives for those skills.
In addition, Appendix D in the Dick and Carey book lists objectives for some of the subordinate skills for their goal on story writing. The first column shows lists the subskill, and the second column lists the accompanying objective. You can ignore the third column for the time being, as that deals with assessment, which will be covered in the next Lesson.
Instructional Design Project Part Four
Using all the information you've acquired up to this point, it is now time to write objectives describing exactly what it is you want your learners to be able to do when they finish with your instruction. In this activity you will begin working on Part 4 of your ID Project. Part 4 will be comprised of the activities from Lessons 6 and 7, so you will not turn this part in until after Lesson 7.
To begin with, write down your original goal statement. Then create a terminal objective based on that goal statement. Remember, the terminal objective has all of the components of a performance objective, and its conditions reflect the context that will be available in the learning environment. When you are finished you should have your original goal statement, and the terminal objective written below it.
Once you have your terminal objective, write down each of your goal steps, substeps, and subordinate skills in order. Do not worry about your entry behaviors at this point, just the skills you are going to include in your instruction. Beneath each one, answer the following questions:
After answering these questions, write a performance objective for each step, substep, and subordinate skill in your instructional analysis. You do not have to write objectives for your entry behaviors. Each objective you write should contain the three components of an effective objective: the Performance, the Conditions, and the Criterion. If you answer the three questions above effectively then you should be able to pull the information directly from your responses. Number each objective according to how its box is numbered in the instructional analysis; this way it will be easier to match them up.
Here's an example of what your document should look like for each step, substep, and subordinate skill:
When you have all of your objectives written, insert a copy of your instructional analysis flowchart above your list of objectives.
Submitting Part Four of your ID Project
Part Four of your ID Project should be typed up in Microsoft Word. At the top of the paper type "ID Project Part Four: Objectives and Assessment". Underneath that include your name, email address, and the date. When you save the file name it "objectives.doc". You will continue to work on Part 4 of your ID Project in Lesson 7, so you do not need to submit it in until then.