University of Arkansas

Walton College

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Crafting Learning Objectives

Introduction to Learning Objectives

One of the most commonly misunderstood components of a course are the Learning Objectives. Often, learning objectives are mistakenly worded as course goals, or the intention of a course. Learning objectives are much more formalized, use specific language, and contain a structure similar to that of a research question. Similarly to a research question guiding the selection of research methodology and variables required to answer the question, the learning objectives should be the foundation of the selection of assessment methods, content, and activities/assignments – in that order. The formal process of course design starts with the Learning Objectives for the course – what do you want the students to be able to know, do, or feel at the completion of the course. The next step is to identify how YOU, through quantifiable assessment, will know that each student has achieved the level of knowing, doing, or feeling. Then you select the content and activities necessary to move the student from their existing state of knowledge to your desired outcome.

Therefore, learning objectives must be measureable and be meaningfully assessed. A learning objective answers the question: “What should students be able to do at the end of the course or learning unit and under what conditions?” The objective can be centered on the domains of cognitive (e.g., knowing or evaluating content), affective (e.g., feelings or attitudes toward social environments), or psychomotor (e.g., completion of physical tasks). The intention of a learning objective is two-fold: 1) it aids the educator in structuring and evaluating the content, 2) it communicates to the student what the expectations are as they relate to outcomes. The learning objective is aimed at the knowledge and skills you are going to teach and measure.


A common structure of learning objectives is the ABC or ABCD structure (Audience, Behavior, Condition, and Degree). Audience defines the individual or collective level of measurement (e.g., student or collaborative group). Behavior defines what the audience will be able to do by the end of the learning unit (e.g., perform a statistical test or explain a concept). Condition defines, oddly enough, the conditions in which students will be expected to achieve the objective (e.g., at the end of the learning unit or without the use of statistical software). Degree, sometimes referred to as performance standard, indicates how the audience’s achievement of the learning objective will be measured. In higher education, the degree or performance standard is more often specified in the syllabus when describing assignments, quizzes, grading standards, etc.; however, it is entirely acceptable to specify the standards at the learning objective level as well.

Table 1 contains examples of both the ABC and ABCD structure. The order of the components is not critical. The importance is placed on ensuring that all the components are present. Additional guidance on creating and evaluating learning objectives will be available as you are documenting your learning objectives in the Course Development Workspace on Blackboard.

Table 1
ABC and ABCD Structured Learning Objectives Examples

A  B  C  —

Upon successful completion of this learning unit, students will be able to:

  1. perform statistical tests for population mean, without the use of statistical software.
  2. use a confidence interval to draw conclusion about two-sided tests.

A  B  C  D  —

Upon successful completion of this learning unit, students will be able to:

  1. perform statistical tests for population mean, by submitting detailed working procedures for six scenario-based examples.
  2. use a confidence interval to draw conclusion about two-sided tests, by rejecting or accepting four null hypotheses.

Bloom's Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain

Bloom's Taxonomy (see Table 2) is a multi-tiered model of classifying thinking according to six levels of increasing complexity. The lower cognitive levels, or lower-order, are: knowledge, comprehension, and application. The higher cognitive levels, or higher-order, are: analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Bloom's Taxonomy has been in use for around 60 years, and has stood up to scrutiny of a myriad of empirical research with little change over the years. However, it should be noted that several additional taxonomies have grown out of Bloom's original (e.g., the Revised Bloom's and Bloom's Digital) due to changing views how students interact with content and assessments, however these branches are not significantly different from the well-established original.

In addition to Bloom’s cognitive taxonomy, there are taxonomies for the affective and psychomotor domains as well. The affective domain is more difficult to measure and often requires pre-/post-measurements or longitudinal tracking to be quantifiable. The psychomotor domain isn’t likely to be used in business education as it is more focused on muscle memory and motor skills (e.g., typing, kinesthetics, use of physical instruments, etc.). If your learning objectives fall within either the affective or psychomotor domains, please consult an instructional designer for guidance on measuring the objectives. More on these domains are included in the resources at the end of the document.

Table 2
Bloom’s taxonomy of cognitive domains



Example Objective Verbs


Ability to recall previously learned material.

Define, identify, list, name, recall, recognize, …


Ability to grasp meaning, explain, restate ideas.

Choose, describe, discriminate, discuss, explain, identify, …


Ability to use learned material in new situations.

Apply, demonstrate, illustrate, interpret, practice, utilize, ...


Ability to separate material into component parts and show relationships between parts.

Compare, debate, determine, examine, infer, question, ...


Ability to put together the separate ideas to form new whole, establish new relationships.

Compose, create, design, formulate, prepare, propose, ...


Ability to judge the worth of material against stated criteria.

Assess, critique, judge, rate, revise, validate, value, test, ...


Clarity of Expectations

Bloom’s Taxonomy assists the educator in determining the level of cognitive thinking they expect and ways in which this expectation can be worded to communicate the expectation. Commonly incorrectly defined behaviors are “know” and “understand” (e.g., students will be able to understand). Know and understand are not measureable behaviors. Rather than using know and understand, which are actually broad cognitive domains (i.e., knowledge and comprehension); the behavior should indicate how the faculty will know that they know. For example, in order to know that they know you may expect them to list all the salient characteristics of a topic. In this example the behavior should be list, rather than know.

Building to higher orders of thinking...

In addition to the terminal learning objective, the objective you expect the student to reach, the instructional process should take into consideration the domains that precede it. For example, before we can understand a concept we have to remember it, before we can apply the concept we must understand it, and so forth. Some of the domains may be expected of the students as prior knowledge or prerequisite academic achievement; however these prior expectations should be clearly identified (i.e., listing of prerequisite courses or prerequisite ability/knowledge).

Learning Objectives as a Communication Tool

Another way to view objectives are as a communication tool. Through the course objectives, a faculty member informs students not only what they will be expected to be able to do, feel, or know at the end of the course, but also how they will demonstrate that ability. For example, between the two objectives:

  1. […] able to identify components of a functional software application.
  2. […] able to program components of a functional software application.

The second implies a greater requirement to commit time (programming) to the demonstration of knowledge, rather than simply identifying items. The latter also implies that additional knowledge would be required in order to “program”, such as knowledge of syntax, logic structures, etc.

Course- versus Unit-Level Objectives

Course objectives inform the faculty and students of the intent of the course. At the unit level, the same pattern and process can be used to inform the faculty and student of the purpose of the unit. These unit level objectives should “roll-up” to the course-level (e.g., a unit-level objective supports course objectives, or another unit’s objective which in turn supports the course’s). A “unit” could be a topic, a week, or some other logic structure within the course.


Additional Learning Objective Resources

Most of these are short reads, with links to external information embedded if you get curious.

Learning Objectives: Building a Solid Foundation for Your Course
Another good introduction to the purpose and framework of course-level learning objectives.

Learning Analytics: Aligning Course and Module Objectives
Describes in more detail about the link between a course- and module-level objective (with "module" being how you structure your course, e.g., a week, chapter, unit, topic, etc.)

5 Common Mistakes to Avoid During Online Course Design
Lastly, this resource is a short read and might be handy as you think about designing or redesigning a course for online delivery.