Learning objectives or not?

Jo Badge pointed me to a post by Stuart (no other id given), “Learning objectives or not?“, which started with this intentionally provocative statement, “A good teacher states clear Learning Objectives. The best don’t. Discuss.” I commented on the blog and repost my comment here.

My perspective is from higher education. Courses are required to be described by our QA regime in terms of “intended learning outcomes” (i.e. objectives). As a teacher, I am quite dogmatic that this be done carefully because it helps shape assessment and teaching strategies. It gives prospective students “fair warning”. In this transitional era of increasing fees and turbulent funding models it lets people know, in part, what they are paying for. But, whether objectives are revealed before, during or after a teaching session is a part of teaching strategy. And, it is essential that we not fall into the trap set by Diana Laurillard that objectives be “necessary, sufficient and complete.” As a teacher I hope for and expect extensive creative – even subversive – appropriation of everything that goes on. Sometimes it helps to ask people to express their own objectives before a session, or their own outcomes after a session. Finally, I try to keep a clear line between “aims” and “objectives”. Aims describe what we, the teacher, the institution, the QAA, the professional bodies, etc. intend. Objectives describe what the learners will be able to DO after the session, module, or course. This, for me, means always writing objectives using verbs which describe actions visible in the world, not descriptions of interior (psychological) states. Yes, we want them to “know” and to “understand” and to “appreciate”, but how will we see that understanding in action? What will they DO to enable us to determine that they indeed understand?

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