Why Learning Objectives are a road map, as well as a pedagogical device

Textbook writing is both an art and a science. Creating a structure to your chapters helps the reader know where you’re going, and what they should expect to learn.

Winding Road on a Colorful Background with Pin Pointers
Give your readers some signposts for where they’re going, and what they should expect to learn along the way

Learning Objectives (LOs) are a great pedagogical device, but they also provide a map to help you structure your chapter. LOs at the start of each chapter are statements of specific and measurable goals that identify knowledge or skills a student should have mastered upon completing the chapter. If your book is likely to have instructor resources supporting it, then test questions will be tagged to the LOs, to provide insight into what material the student has or has not yet mastered.

Best Practices with Learning Objectives

  1. Align each learning objective with an A-level subheading

Connect LOs to the core content in your chapter by pairing one LO with each major subheading in the chapter. Since A-level subheads divide the chapter into its main topics, matching LOs with these helps ensure you have covered all the essential content.

  1. Create 5-8 learning objectives per chapter

Most chapters will include an average of 5 A-level subheadings. For most texts, 5-8 LOs per chapter will be about the right number. More than 8 LOs will overwhelm students, and may indicate that you are trying to include too much material in one chapter.

  1. Use Bloom’s Taxonomy to craft learning objectives

Bloom’s Taxonomy helps classify LOs based upon the ways students learn, advancing from basic knowledge recall toward evaluative critical thinking through five cognitive categories: remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, and create. As your book progresses, your LOs will naturally move towards the more complex learning outcomes. Try and use a variety of interesting, measurable verbs in crafting your objectives:

  1. Write LOs in a clear and consistent format

Use simple, direct statements that contain a verb and an object to create clear, measurable objectives. Your objectives should include:

  • A measurable or observable verb
  • The object of the verb
  • The condition, if any, under which the measurement is to occur
  • The criterion or measure of success, if any

Here’s an example with a verb, object, and condition:

Describe the various steps in carrying out a literature review

  1. Compose SMART learning objectives

The handy SMART acronym captures the key LO characteristics to keep in mind. They should be:

S = Specific

M = Measurable

A = Achievable

R = Relevant

T = Targeted

Tie LOs to your end-of-chapter material

Once you’ve created your LOs for each of your major headings in the chapter, your chapter-ending material should also refer back to each of the objectives, to help the student assess whether they have mastered the content. Write an end-of-chapter “Test Yourself” question for each of your LOs.

Voilà! You now have a well-structured chapter which guides the reader through your content, and helps them check their mastery. Now on to the next chapter…

Author: Helen Salmon

I'm a Senior Acquisitions Editor at SAGE, responsible for signing and developing books in research methods, statistics, and evaluation.

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