Learning objectives are the cornerstone of the Acrobatiq approach to instruction. This may sound obvious; aren’t learning objectives just a standard ingredient these days? Don’t be so sure. Have you or your students ever taken an exam and thought, “This wasn’t covered in class!” Do you review new textbooks and problem sets and wonder, “What is this trying to teach?” Unclear objectives or poor alignment between objectives and instruction can create a fog of confusion around a course. And that fog gets thicker in the case of an online or hybrid course when the chances to clear the confusion are less frequent or timely.
Here at Acrobatiq, we begin every project by articulating the student-centered, measurable learning objectives for the learning experience. Objectives are both the goal and the roadmap. As a goal, students should emerge from the learning experience with the ability to demonstrate their new knowledge and skills through assessment and real-world application. As a roadmap, objectives provide a framework for selecting appropriate content, organizing the course, and targeting practice and assessment.
Learning objectives are essential to the learning engineering process. In the design phase, learning engineers develop instructional elements to target specific objectives. It is the learning objective and the cognitive processes it entails that determine the type of practice or assessment selected and feedback provided. For example, a matching exercise builds recognition whereas a simulation or lab supports analysis and application. Learning engineers ensure that for each learning objective there are adequate opportunities to practice and receive feedback. They also verify that all practice activities and assessment questions relate to, and are in support of, one or more objectives. Finally, learning engineers use objectives to evaluate and improve existing courses. By viewing student results through the lens of learning objectives, the design team can target improvement directly to course goals.
Learning objectives play a big role and therefore must be carefully constructed. We believe effective learning objectives are both student-centered and measureable.
Learning results from experience, from what the student does and thinks. Therefore, it only makes sense to focus learning objectives on the student. Student-centered objectives express what the student should be able to do or accomplish after completing an instructional activity. They establish relevant goals and expectations against which students can engage, plan and self-assess. Moreover, student-centered objectives communicate the important, active role the student has in his or her own learning.
Learning engineering is an iterative process. Every course begins as a hypothesis for how to effectively support learners in achieving a set of desired outcomes. While designs are informed by subject matter expertise, teaching experience and learning science, there are always places to improve. Measurement through assessment and learning data enable us to check our hypothesis, garner insights and focus future improvement. This extends to students, as well, who use learning objectives to monitor their own learning.
In order to measure learning, learning objectives must be measurable. After all, if our goals are not measurable, how do we know if they have been met? Verbs like “explore,” “examine,” “understand,” and “appreciate” can be difficult to assess. For example, how do you know if a learner has explored or examined or understood sufficiently? Instead, learning engineers phrase objectives with observable action verbs from Bloom’s taxonomy (e.g. “describe”, “evaluate”, “construct”, “apply”).
Practice activities are opportunities for the student to demonstrate (and for us to measure) their knowledge with respect to learning objectives. One of the most powerful features of educational technology is the ability to embed such assessment throughout the instructional experience in a “learn by doing” format. The data from these practice activities, when related back to learning objectives, unlock deep insights to where and why students are succeeding and struggling.
At Acrobatiq we believe a student’s demonstrated performance throughout an entire course can offer a more complete and nuanced picture of competency than summative assessment alone. Our processes, technology and courses are designed with student-centered, measurable objectives at the core. The benefit of this approach to teaching is clear. Instructors are empowered by clear, actionable information and able to adapt more quickly to individual student needs. For example, the Acrobatiq instructor dashboard shows students’ estimated level of learning for each learning objective and directs attention to problem spots.
Learning objectives are a hot topic, featured in the discussion of performance funding for higher education, the credit hour, accreditation and national education policy. While all of these issues are important concerns, at a more basic level, learning objectives help to clear that fog I mentioned earlier. We believe that is a big benefit for students and instructors alike.