The Importance of Learning Objectives

In Writing Learning Objectives: Beginning With The End In Mind, the purpose of a learning objective is to help ensure the level of comprehension intended is achieved by the student.  This requires a clear learning objective, to drive the lessons, and activities created by the instructor, written with the assessment method in mind.  Methods of assessment can be planned to determine whether the learning objective was achieved, or if more time may be needed on the topic to achieve the intended objective.  Students are also given a clear idea of where the activities will take them when they know the intended objective beforehand.  Bloom's Taxonomy, concept maps, and taxonomy tables are all useful in helping to create good learning objectives, and designing the activities associated with them for assessment.

Chart of Bloom's Taxonomy
By Xristina la (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Bloom's Taxonomy
To create an ideal learning objective you need to have an initial understanding of the level of knowledge in your students.  You wouldn't want to have students in a graduate level class simply memorize a list, you would want them to synthesize material at a higher level.  In 1956 Benjamin Bloom collaboratively published what has become known as Bloom's Taxonomy, which ranks different levels of thinking associated with knowledge of a subject (with minor revisions introduced in 2001 [Armstrong]).  At the bottom of Bloom's Taxonomy is basic memorization, which can be assessed using multiple choice exams.  The levels increase in complexity up to the ultimate level where students are able to create new things based on the material learned, such as a sales pitch for a new drug.  Being able to think about material at a higher level ensures students have a solid understanding of the material and may also help them retain the material for longer periods of time.

Concept Maps
Concept maps, also called mind maps, can help an instructor design learning objectives and assessment activities.  Concept maps are depicted with a central idea and have information radiating out from the center.  Initial branches have large ideas that break off into smaller more detailed branches.  According to The Theory Behind Mind Maps from, different items can be placed on a branch (i.e. images, lists, etc.) and each branch can have a different emphasis (i.e. color, bold text, etc.) leading to the incorporation of different cortical skills, enhancing thought processes and retention of the information.  Concept maps are useful for creating learning objectives and the associated activities and assessment methods because an instructor can layout the connection between all three parts in a simple figure to ensure alignment.

I created the concept map below to help guide me from my learning objectives on evolutionary biology through the activities and their assessment methods.  The process allowed me to focus on how I wanted to assess that learning had occurred.  You can see my topic in the center.  Branching from that are my learning objectives, followed by the activities for assessment, and finally a question that will allow me to determine whether or not the activity successfully achieved the objective.  

Concept Map for Learning Objectives on Evolution
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Concept map of learning objectives for a module on evolution

Zoom in here to read the details.

Taxonomy Table
To help create a set of learning objectives enabling students to achieve Bloom's higher levels of thinking, taxonomy tables can be useful as well.  In a taxonomy table the different levels of Bloom's taxonomy are listed in a column, followed by a list of learning objectives - one for each category, and then the activities that will be used for assessment.  More columns can be added to tailor the table to the specific needs of the instructor, such as the tool that may be used for the activity or how the activity will be assessed.  You could also use the table to assess the level of learning for a course that has already been designed by filling in current learning objectives and then modifying and adding more learning objectives to it until the desired level of learning is achieved.  

Below is the taxonomy table I created for a module on evolution.  This taxonomy table started by being based on how the class was designed when I began teaching it.  The only items I could fill in fell in the lowest two levels of learning - remembering and understanding.  As I worked through the table I explored different tools that would be applicable for a variety of learning styles.  As the level of thinking increases in the table the learning objectives become more complex.  I think the activities become more exciting too, stimulating the students by challenging them to think about the material in different ways, such as creating an image or deciding what and how much information would be appropriate for elementary school students.  

My favorite activity is the one that ended up coinciding with the ultimate level of thinking, creating.  I ask students to create a chapter review on evolution.  The review should include more than just written work, such as images and videos (from the internet, or created themselves), news feeds, snippets of text from a Twitter conversation, anything they like, but they need to show a deep level of understanding for the material. 

Evolution Assessment Taxonomy Table

Bloom categories

Learning objective verbs

(recall, list, define, identify, collect, label)
Students will display their understanding of evolutionary concepts by taking a quiz with at least 80% accuracy.
Chapter quiz.
(summarize, describe interpret, predict, discuss)
Students will display deeper scientific thought by discussing current evolution related news articles in a discussion board*.
Science in the news discussions.  
(apply, demonstrate, illustrate, classify, experiment, discover)
Students will display their understanding of genetic variation by creating an image in Google Drawings that depicts the change in organisms over time from populations with differing levels of genetic variation*.
Breeding new species.
(analyze, classify, connect, explain, infer)
Students will demonstrate their understanding of natural selection by explaining how natural selection drives evolution for elementary school students connected to us through ePals*.
Explain natural selection to a child.  
(assess, recommend, convince, compare, conclude, summarize)
Students will evaluate their contribution and the contribution of others to the class wiki project by comparing strong and weak points as well as accuracy and ease of interpretation in the content of the project on their blog*.
Chapter review evaluation.
(combine, integrate, plan, create, design, formulate)
Students will display their understanding of evolution by creating a collaborative chapter review on our class wiki*.
Collaborative chapter review.
  • with at least 80% accuracy according to the rubric provided.

Works Cited
Armstrong, P. (n.d.). Bloom's Taxonomy. Retrieved February 8, 2015, from

Theory behind Mind Maps. (n.d.). Retrieved February 11, 2015, from

Writing Learning Objectives: Beginning With The End In Mind. (n.d.). Retrieved February 11, 2015, from