Recommended Reading

The text "Preparing Instructional Objectives" by Robert Mager is recommended for more information regarding writing objectives. It is a quick read and filled with great information and more detail than we are able to provide in this lesson. The book is available from the VT Library at this link.


In the previous assignments, our actions focused on analysis. We analyzed the need, the goal, the steps and sub-steps to perform the goal, the knowledge and skills needed to perform the goal, the learners, the context in which the learner could use the knowledge and skills gained, as well as the context in which our learners will achieve the goal. Now our actions turn to designing for the learning environment.

Overview of Objectives

Writing objectives is the first step we take in the design portion of the instructional design model. What is an 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). Objectives describe the performance of the learners, not that of the instructor. Objectives focus on the learning environment, not the performance environment. These are important distinctions.

Mager emphasizes the need for clear, precise statements of what students should be able to achieve. He believes that this should be done before any development work is started. Therefore, we write objectives now, at the beginning of the design work. Objectives are used two ways in this instructional design model. First, they indicate what the learner should be able to do at the end of the instructional module. When used for this purpose, they are called terminal objectives. Second, they indicate what the learners should be able to do for each step, substep, and subordinate skills during the instructional module. These objectives can also be used to inform the learners of what they will be expected to do as proof that they are learning. Informing learners of the objectives can help provide more learner control and help students link new knowledge to old knowledge.

How does an objective compare to a goal statement? Goal statements are 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 environment. Objectives are more specific and describe a performance that will take place within the learning environment and during instruction. Objectives are measureable and therefore track the learner's progress toward the achievement of the goal. As a result, they are better to use as the basis for planning instructional activities.

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.

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, the conditions, and the criterion.

The performance is what we want the learners to do. The emphasis is on the verb we use. It is critical that we select a verb that is an observable action and is not ambiguous. As Mager tells us, "If a statement does not include a visible performance, it isn't yet an objective" (p. 52).

The conditions are the things the learners will and will not have to use when they complete the performance. Conditions can also specify special circumstances that will dictate the completion of the performance. Conditions can specify limitations that will be in place when the performance is completed.

The criterion is a standard for the performance in order to determine competency in the performance. Criteria are most often stated in terms of speed, accuracy, or quality. In a sense, they modify the verb stated in the performance.

  • A criterion of speed indicates how quickly the performance must be completed. While you may be tempted to think in terms of the amount of time you have to deliver the instruction, remember that it must make sense and be critical to the performance. If time will not be considered when you assess the learner, then time should not be mentioned in the objectives. If you are not sure if speed is an appropriate criterion for the performance, as yourself what would happen if the learner did not complete the performance in the amount of time stated. For example, a speed-based criterion of "within 5 minutes" would be critical to a performance of "stop bleeding", however speed is not critical when the performance is "opening a web browser".
  • A criterion of accuracy indicates a level of precision for the completion of the performance. For example, you may want the learner to weigh each of the dry ingredients for a recipe. A criterion for this performance could be "…so that the ingredient is weighed to the nearest ounce".
  • A criterion of quality indicates a level of quality of the performance before it is acceptable. Sometimes, quality needs to be measured using multiple aspects. For example, our performance may be "to respond appropriately during an interview". To determine what an appropriate interaction looks like, we may need to include multiple criteria that measure composure, appropriateness of the language, length of the answers, and maybe even appearance.
Although objectives focus on what the learner must do and how well it must be done, sometimes their performance is seen in the quality of the output of doing it. This is often the case when the topic of your instruction is a software package. It is likely that the response of the software will itself indicate whether the performance was correct. For example, you are training your learners to use Adobe Photoshop. One of the steps involves opening a new file. If the software displays the "New" file window, then you know the learner has completed the performance appropriately.

Word Selection is one of the most important components of objective writing. Good word choice gives the objective clarity, meaning and relevance. This downloadable .pdf provides you with guidance on word selection.

Additional considerations

Mager urges us to consider these additional issues when writing objectives.

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 you expect the learner to demonstrate and not the process an instructor would follow. The following are descriptions of the process, rather than of the intended results:

- To provide a lecture on renaissance painters
- Be able to read in front of the class
- This course provides practice and feedback
- Develop confidence

Specific vs. General

If your objectives are not specific enough, then they are useless for their intended purpose. With the specific statements you would easily be able to determine if someone has met the objective.

Here are some fuzzy statements:

- Understand energy
- Know the president
- Be able to think clearly

These are clearer and more specific:

- Solve for x
- Change a tire
- Open the AltaVista search engine

Measurable vs. Unmeasurable

Measurable objectives describe outcomes that can be observed. The statement above that states "change a tire" is measurable because we can watch someone change a tire and determine if they have completed the performance according to the criterion. 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 must describe the student's performance rather than the instructor's performance. Here are some that relate to the instructor's performance:

- Lecture on the Theory of Relativity
- Teach the importance of washing one's hands
- Arrange instructional activities

Here are some that relate to the student's performance. These examples relate to specific, measurable student outcomes:

- Write a resume
- State three causes of the Civil War
- Add two-digit numbers

Activity: Objectives

In this activity, write objectives describing exactly what it is you want your learners to be able to do. Do not submit this assignment when it is finished; you will need to append your assignment for Lesson 9 to this assignment.

Step 1. Revise the goal statement.

Review your goal statement to determine if it includes a statement of the performance context in which the goal will be used. If it does not, then it needs to be revised.

Step 2. Write a terminal objective based on the goal statement.

A terminal objective is a rewrite of the goal statement in the form of an objective. It includes the three components of an objective as well as the context that will be available in the learning environment. The performance stated in the terminal objective must be completed within the learning environment.

Step 3. Analyze the actions and compose an objective

An objective is needed for each step and sub-step identified in the goal analysis as well as the subordinate skills identified in the subordinate skills analysis, except for the entry skills. For each objective, identify the performance expected of the learner, the conditions he will use to complete the performance, and the criterion within which the performance must be completed.

Here is an example of what your assignment should look like for each step, substep, and subordinate skill. The example uses a substep from the Alta Vista research goal discussed in previous lessons.

Step 4.1 - Apply rules to determine credibility of the site.
  1. Performance - The learners will evaluate web site information for credibility of the information.
  2. Conditions - Learners will be given rules for determining the credibility of web site information.
  3. Criteria – Learner will correctly identify credible web sites.
Objective 4.1
- Given a set of rules for determining the credibility of information on a web site, learners will correctly identify web sites that are credible.

Step 4. Subordinate Skills Analysis flowchart.

When you have all of your objectives written, insert a copy of your flowchart from the subordinate skills analysis.

Submitting your Assignment

Your assignment should be produced using Microsoft Word. Your assignment for this lesson will include your work in the next lesson before it is submitted. The title of this assignment is "Objectives and Assessment". Beneath that, enter your name, email address, and the date. Save the file using the filename "objectives". Move on to the next lesson, complete that assignment, and append it to this document.

Assignment: Assessment Items

Points: 20

Grading Criteria

- Goal Statement stated, or restated if necessary. Terminal Objective derived from Goal Statement. (2)
- For each goal step, substep, and subordinate skill, includes a description of the performance expected from the learner. (2)
- For each goal step, substep, and subordinate skill, includes a description of the conditions that will prevail while learners attempt to accomplish the goal. (2)
- For each goal step, substep, and subordinate skill, includes a description of the criteria that will be used to determine if learners have achieved the objective. (2)
- Effective and well-written objective derived from each goal step, substep, and subordinate skill. Each objective contains three components: Performance, Standards, and Criterion. (10)
- Objectives numbered clearly. (1)
- Instructional Analysis flowchart included in document. (1)