1. Course Planning

Recommendation 1.2: Unit-level Objectives
Clearly state unit-level learning objectives that are written from the learners’ perspective, and are prominently located throughout the course.

Synopsis from Self-Review

Focus on communicating topic-level or week-level learning objectives that align with what you ask students to do in that time frame. This gives students a clearer sense of purpose and reinforces the connection with the broader course outcomes.

How to Put Into Practice

Students benefit from the sense of purpose that comes from regular, explicit connections between what they are doing and what they are meant to learn. Reflecting on the clarity, substance, and sequence of learning objectives as they drive each unit or chunk of your course is therefore a crucial step towards fostering this sense of purpose.

Unit (or weekly or module) objectives should be more specific than the overall course outcomes (although there may be some overlap at times). These objectives are stepping stones to achieving the overall course outcomes. Therefore, if you have a higher-level course outcome, you may need several lower-level module objectives to build competencies to reach the higher-level course outcome.

Strategies for Crafting and Communicating Objectives

  • Apply strategies for crafting course-level outcomes to composing clear objectives that convey what students will be able to do after completing this unit or chunk. 
    • Begin with an action verb. (That is, avoid general terms like “know, understand, learn, appreciate.” Use other verbs which are observable and/or measurable: e.g. if a student can explain a concept, that demonstrates understanding.)
    • Follow with a statement of what students should be able to know or demonstrate at the end of the learning interaction.
    • Keep it short (one substantive sentence per outcome).
  • Use a course mapping guide (scroll down to Option #2, Course Mapping) to create a week-by-week map with learning objectives for each week. 
  • Look for opportunities to create stronger alignment among unit outcomes, assessment criteria, and activities. For an example of misalignment: if success on an exam depends on evaluating the experimental design of past research studies, then a unit focusing on the key findings of those studies means that students are unlikely to activate the research design skills evaluated in the exam. A unit that explores methodological differences among studies and the implications of these differences would be better aligned with this assessment.
  • Reflect on which course outcomes require multiple units for students to achieve successfully and how you will assess their progress.
    • Let’s say that students need to be able to describe the content of past research studies and evaluate the study design. One might choose to focus each week on a different type of skill or knowledge, or combine the two types each week. In both scenarios, it’s useful to build in knowledge checks ahead of the exam to assess how well students (1) distinguish between describing studies and evaluating study design; (2) describe a study; and (3) evaluate a study’s design.
  • Establish a rhythm for communicating key learning objectives (e.g., a weekly Canvas announcement; an introduction page for each Canvas Module; a Unit Introduction Video). Outline how the elements of the week/unit will guide students to achieve these outcomes.
  • Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself about the purpose of activities and assignments. Repetition helps students take in key messages, even if they may feel redundant to you.

Additional Resources

  • There are several respected taxonomies that are excellent resources to help draft learning objectives. Read a summary of Learning Objective Taxonomies that includes verbs and examples from Bloom, Fink, and Wiggins & McTighe.
  • Use an online tool to practice writing clear, measurable Learning Objectives based on Bloom’s Taxonomy. Learning Objectives Builder
  • This planning guide offers a framework for creating a detailed week-by-week plan for a  course that can help you align learning outcomes, materials, and activities, including assessments: Create your own copy of the planning guide.

Background Information

What is this?

Unit-level learning objectives communicate what students will be able to do after completing a chunk of the course. Sometimes these look similar to the big-picture outcomes guiding the whole course; often they capture a subset or building block of these.

Why is this important?

Students are more motivated and intentional in their learning when they know the purpose of what you are asking them to do. Projecting this clarity of purpose through each topic, unit, or week also helps you structure the course to channel students’ intellectual efforts towards what is most critical.

Where is this?

Unit-level objectives can be stated in the module/weekly overviews and listed in assignments and activity directions.

Success Factor 1: Course Planning

The amount of time a student spends learning reflects the university’s guidelines for credit hours (including lectures, discussion, reading, assignments, studying, etc.). The definition of a credit hour is based on federal rules and ensures students receive the enriching and engaging education they deserve without demanding more effort than is required.

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