Creating Learning Expectations
This is the first of three “backward design” tutorials in the following sequence:
- Creating Learning Expectations (this tutorial)
- Assessing Student Learning
- Creating a Learning Activity
When designing a course, instructors typically consider the books, movies, activities, and projects that they want students to complete. While these are important parts of a course, they are only the means to an end. The end is what you want your students to know and be able to do by the time they finish the course. By describing the end in a formal statement of learning expectations, you help your students—and yourself—focus on what is important in the course. Your stated learning expectations should drive all other class activities.
Learning expectations (also known as learning objectives) are succinct descriptions of what you expect students to learn in your course. Each expectation must be measurable so that you can tell whether students have met the expectation. Learning expectations typically include action verbs, such as describe, list, create, write. Ideally, they also include a standard of performance, such as how accurate or fast a student will be in performing the action described in the learning expectation.
- Upon completing this module, you will be able to accurately list five causes of the Civil War.
- In a clinical setting, you will be able to identify three cultural differences that affect delivery of health care on the reservation.
- Upon completing your fieldwork, you will be able to demonstrate with 100% accuracy two different techniques for chemical analysis of your soil samples.
- Given a data set and description of the data collection techniques, you will be able to write a report in the format expected by one of three hydrology journals, and you will submit your report to one of the journals for publication.
By the end of this tutorial you will be able to write at least two learning expectations that contain unambiguous verbs and are measurable.
This reading is part of Virginia Tech’s Master of Arts program in Instructional Technology. Read it before proceeding.
For learning expectations that your students will see—for example, in your syllabus—write the learning expectations using the word you so that students reading the learning expectations will feel a more personal connection with your expectations of what they’ll learn.
Upon completing this lesson, you will be able to...
If you are writing learning expectations for submission to a curriculum committee, follow the committee’s standards, which might mean rewriting the learning expectation slightly to refer to a student instead of you.
Upon completing this lesson, a student will be able to...
One of the biggest problems with poorly written objectives is the choice of words used to indicate the type of performance expected. Vague verbs that are open to interpretation do not provide a clear enough indication of what the learners will actually be doing. Be specific about your instructional intent, or you leave yourself open to misinterpretation. The following chart, taken from Lesson Six - Writing Objectives, lists some common unclear words used in goals and objectives, as well as more specific, better alternatives.
|Common Ambiguous Words||"Better" Performance Words|
Grasp the significance of
Become familiar with
Become aware of
Have faith in
Choose (or select)
Before diving in head first to write objectives, you might find it easier to do some prep work.
Read the following two examples of learning expectations. Decide which you think is better and why you think it is better:
- You will demonstrate metric measurement of length.
- Given a metric ruler, you will be able to measure the length of common linear objects to the nearest millimeter.
The second one is a fuller objective because it describes the conditions in which a student will demonstrate mastery of learning, it details the action a student will take to demonstrate mastery, and it describes the degree of precision expected. It makes clear to both student and instructor what needs to be done by the student to demonstrate that the skill has been mastered and the objective achieved. The first objective lacks specifics.
For a course that you are teaching, consider the course goal and then identify the following information:
- The kind of knowledge to be learned (declarative/factual or functioning/working)
- The content or topics to be learned
- The level of understanding or performance to be achieved
In the fields below, type your answers.
Note: If you want to keep a copy of your answers, click the Show Answers button near the bottom of this page, and then print the resulting page.
Next Tutorial: Assessing Student Learning
Assessment is how you measure whether students have met your learning expectations. Assessing Student Learning, the next tutorial in this series, discusses assessment.
One way to organize content in Blackboard Learn (Bb Learn) is to use Lesson Plans, which give you a place to state your learning expectations (Blackboard calls them objectives). You can make the elements of your lesson plans visible to your students or only to you. The e-Learning Center advocates sharing the objectives with your students in Bb Learn because transparency in course design clues students in to what the course will be like.
You can decide what unit of instruction—for example, a class period, a week, a unit, a module, or some other organizational chunk of course material—you want to include in a lesson.
For more on Lesson Plans in Bb Learn, watch this 5-minute video from Blackboard: http://ondemand.blackboard.com/r91/movies/bb91_lesson_plans_create_lesson_plan.htm.
For more information on this topic, contact the e-Learning Center at nau.edu/elearning. We are also on Twitter (twitter.com/nauelearning) and Facebook (on.fb.me/nauelc), and we blog at nauelearning.wordpress.com.