Learning Objectives

Learning Objectives

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Clear statement about the outcome of a training course, which informs what the trainee will be able to do or know after the training. They are presented from the trainee’s perspective, expressing as a target the improvement of competencies, which will enhance job performance. The performance signals to the trainees what must be done or learned in very specific terms.

The learning objectives are the starting point of the development of a learning activity. They constitute an essential element in the preparation of a training course. Defining adequate learning objectives can be one of the most time-consuming tasks in training design. Even though they may be expressed in a single paragraph of a few lines, they are the foundation of any training course as they relate to the overall training goal.


  • They determine the behavior changes that will occur, setting the targets that are to be reached by the end of the training.
  • They provide the trainees with a clear understanding of what they will be expected to know or to do when the course is completed.
  • They must be verifiable and measurable even when the training focuses on attitudes.
  • They must always have three elements:
    • Performance: What the trainee will be able to do as a result of the training, expressed in behavioral terms with action verbs.
    • Conditions: Circumstances under which the performance occurs, which should be aligned with real-world performance (e.g. role-play, simulation, using job aids, while being observed).
    • Standards: They form the basis for trainee’s evaluation, describing how well he/she will be expected to perform each objective.
  • They directly shape content and procedural aspects of any assessment activity. For each stated objective an assessment exercise/activity has to be designed so as to evaluate the extent to which the trainees have learned what they needed to know and do.
  • They orient decision on the type of measurement to design: exams, simulations, checklists, quiz, presentation, role play, demonstrations, monitored activities, etc. The decision on the type to utilize varies according to type of learning to be acquired.

Learning objectives differ from learning goals as they specifically focus on behavioral targets to be achieved at the end of the training, whereas the goals express the general purpose of the training, describing what is covered and how it is organized.

First and Second Level Learning Objectives

The initial statement (or bullet list) of the course learning objectives constitutes the primary objectives (First Level). These first level objectives may have other objectives subordinated to them (Second Level Objectives), which are supporting or enabling objectives.

The First Level Objectives give the trainees an overall guide to what they will accomplish in the course whereas the Second Level Objectives are more content specific, telling exactly what they need to do.

First and second level objectives are particularly used when the course content is divided into modules or units. Thus, there will be an overall objective for the course (First Level) and other subordinated objectives in each of the modules/units (Second Level) that support and directly enable the achievement of the overall course objective.

In case modules/units are further divided into sections, these sections will also have learning objectives (third level), which are even more specific than the ones in the previous levels. [1]See also: A.D.D.I.E Model, Assessment, Bloom’s Taxonomy, Instructional Design (ID)

Toolkit.png Developing Learning Objectives


General Guidelines

1. Determine whether the training is intended for developing awareness, enhancing knowledge or developing skill:


2. Identify the kind of knowledge learners will acquire:

LOs 1.png

3. Determine what knowledge, skills and attitudes trainees will develop by asking the following questions:

  • To determine what the trainees will learn: What learning outcomes participants of this training course need to demonstrate? What should learners know or be able to do by the end of this training event?
  • To determine how one will be able to verify it: With what performance criteria?

The answer will determine the type of objectives that must be developed, indicating the modalities of assessments that need to be designed. If the training course is an awareness raising, knowledge based and skills-based one it needs objectives stating each one of these components and assessments must be designed accordingly.

4. Start the statement with “At the end of the training the trainee will be able to” so as to make sure the objective makes sense from the trainee’s point of view.

5. Decide on the correct behaviors. What you choose in the form of behaviors is what the trainee must exhibit to master the objectives, which represent the performance to be achieved.

6. Include the behavioral part of the objective. Use action verbs with observable behavioral meaning. The action of each objective is what determines whether it is verifiable.

7. Use the list of behaviors categorized according to Bloom’s Taxonomy. Bloom’s taxonomy presents a system of classifying intellectual behavior that is important to learning as it provides a framework to be used when deciding which training component will add value. There are three categories: cognitive, affective, and psychomotor. Cognitive learning, which has to do with factual knowledge, is the category within which most training courses are developed. Bloom’s taxonomy categorizes knowledge in six progressively complex levels (from simple to more complex) which facilitate the construction of learning objectives:


8. Avoid using unverifiable verbs. Know and understand are wrongly used quite frequently. Whenever the action is inside the trainee’s head, the performance component of the objective is not verifiable. Learning can only be tested if it can be verified by the senses[2] Some verbs that are not observable and which should not be used to develop objectives are: appreciate; be aware of; comprehend; enjoy; know; know how to; learn; like; think about; understand.

9. Match the identified behaviors with adequate assessment activities. The type of assessment activity varies according to the behaviors expressed in each objective as they must match each one of them to allow proper evaluation.

10. Analyze if you have constructed a SMART objective:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Action Oriented
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Quick Check

When writing learning objective statements, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does the objective focus on learner performance, explicitly stating what the learner will be able to do as a result of instruction?
  • Does the objective describe the intended outcome of the instruction, not the instructional process or procedure?
  • Does the objective describe explicit behavior that is observable and measurable?
  • Is there a clear link between the learning objectives and the activities and assignments on which the learner’s assessment is based?
  • Do objectives go beyond recall of information to integrating and applying concepts to solve realistic problems?[3]

Job Aids

Pdf.png Developing Learning Objectives

Word.png Learning Objectives Workshops' Template

Word.png Learning Obectives Courses' Template

Folder2.png Examples of Goals and Objectives
The following documents contain examples of learning goals and objectives developed according to the instructions:
Pdf.png General Examples of Goals and Objectives General learning goals and objectives developed for different courses outside UNITAR.
Pdf.png Learning Goal and Objectives: Urban Sanitation Course Learning objectives developed for UNITAR course on Urban Sanitation.
Pdf.png Learning Goal and Objectives: Democratic Governance Course Learning objectives developed for UNITAR / UNDP course on Democratic Governance.

Link icon.png Web Resources
Below you have the link to further resources which deal with some of the concepts related to learning objectives:
Link Content
Are You Writing Rockin’ Course Objectives? 7 Do’s and Don’ts This article explains what a good instructional designer should know to define clear and sound course objectives providing 7 "Do’s and Don’ts".
Assessments in e-Learning This slideshow presents some of the basic concepts related to the development of good learning objectives and to the importance of measuring learning. It also presents different type of assessment.
Why learning goals are necessary for success? (Video, 5 min) Watch this short 5 minute video, and learn about learning goals and how they can improve your instruction.
How To Write Aims and Objectives for eLearning Courses Here is an easy and simple way to understand and write aims and objectives for your eLearning course.


  1. www.depts.washington.edu(18 March 2008), www.utmem.edu(18 March 2008); Hassel-Corbiell, Ribes, Developing Training Courses: a technical writer’s guide to instructional design and development, Learning Edge Publishing, 2006; Phillips, Jack J. & Stone, Ron D., How to Measure Training Results, McGraw-Hill, 2002; Piskurich, George M., Rapid Instructional Design – Learning ID Fast and Right, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2006; Reiser, Robert A. & Dempsey, John V., Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology, Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007; Stolovitch, Harold D. & Keeps, EricaJ., Telling Ain’t Training, ASTD Press, 2002. Woolcock, Michael J.V., Constructing a Syllabus, The Harriet Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning, Brown University, 2006.
  2. Hassel-Corbiell, Ribes, Developing Training Courses: a technical writer’s guide to instructional design and development, Learning Edge Publishing, 2006.
  3. http://capacitydevelopmentindex.pbworks.com, http://www.ucdenver.edu, http://www.celt.mmu.ac.uk, https://sites.google.com, http://www.wcu.edu, http://www.celt.iastate.edu (30 July 2012)