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Creating Effective Objectives for Online Courses and Modules

Effective online courses and modules are designed around well-crafted objectives which focus student activities on high levels of achievement. Creating effective objectives can be elusive. This article presents a formula that the Worldwide eLearning Instructional Design (ID) Team developed and found to be helpful when writing objectives.

First, have a colleague verbally ask you the following question and have them write down your response:

"What are the three to five key things that you want students to learn in this course/module?"

We have found it easier to verbally respond and have someone else write down the answer than trying to respond and write at the same time. We will plug the written response into our formula:

"At the end of this course/module the student will be able to..." -> (Bloom's verb) -> (knowledge and skills)

The three to five items your colleague wrote down are the knowledge and skills in the formula. More than five makes the design of online learning overly complex and may create cognitive overload for the student.

The verb used in front of the knowledge and skills is based on Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives which have been found to help students move from lower to higher order thinking skills. The Worldwide eLearning ID Team likes to use the Bloom's Taxonomy Teacher's Planning Kit (jam2804, n.d.) from which to select a verb to place in the formula. It is not unusual for the first objective in a course or module to have a lower-order objective such as recalling or identifying and for latter objectives to move to higher order skills such as analyzing or synthesizing.

Another consideration for selection of the verb is to ensure that the objective is both observable and measurable (Assessing Student Learning in Degree Programs 2015, p. 7.) For example, the words "know," "understand" and "learn" are difficult to observe and therefore difficult to measure (Assessing Student Learning in Degree Programs 2015, p. 8.) These difficult to measure verbs should be replaced with verbs that solicit easy to observe actions.

Finally, the objective should be written from the student perspective (Assessing Student Learning in Degree Programs 2015, p. 7.) This is the reason our formula begins with the statement "At the end of this course/module the student will be able to. . . ." This statement encourages the writer to place themselves in the student role and envision how the student would show mastery of the specific items being learned.

Here is a set of module objectives which may be used as an example:

At the end of this module the student will be able to:

  • Recite from memory the five ingredients of a given drop-biscuit recipe.
  • Describe from memory the process of making drop-biscuits.
  • Categorize drop-biscuit ingredients as wet or dry.
  • Differentiate a drop-biscuit recipe from other biscuit recipes.
  • Test drop-biscuits cooking in the oven for doneness.
  • Create completely cooked, good looking, and tasty drop-biscuits from scratch.


Jam2804. (n.d.). Bloom's Taxonomy Teacher Planning Kit. Retrieved August 31, 2016, from https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/bloom-s-taxonomy-teacher-planning-kit-6141531

Assessing Student Learning in Degree Programs [PDF]. (2015, April 13). Lubbock: Texas Tech University Office of Planning and Assessment. Retrieved August 31, 2016, from https://www.depts.ttu.edu/opa/resources/docs/Program_Assessment_Handbook_4_13_2015.pdf


The Worldwide eLearning Instructional Design (ID) Team consults in collaboration with faculty and course developers to create quality online courses. The ID Team is well-versed in the best practices of instructional design, universal design for learning, educational technology, and issues such as compliance with the American Disability Act and copyright regulations. ID Team members are available for consultation by appointment: contact us via email or phone, (806) 742-7277, if you need further assistance.