- The effectiveness of learning objectives (LOs) depends on how instructors use them in their course design. Learning objectives should serve as a framework for assessment and instructional activities and be valued by the instructor.
- To effectively communicate the purpose of instruction to students, LOs should be reinforced by classroom instruction rather than simply listing LOs as statements in the syllabus.
- Designing a course using LOs as the foundation for planning results in a more student-centered approach, facilitating efforts by instructors to shift the focus from the content to the concepts and skills that the student should demonstrate upon successfully completing the course.
Chasteen, S.V., Perkins, K.K., Beale, P.D., Pollock, S.J., & Wieman, C.E. (2011). A thoughtful approach to instruction: Course transformation for the rest of us. The Journal of College Science Teaching, 40, 24-30. The authors report the results of an upper-division physics course transformation using LOs to design instruction. A group of 10 instructors reached a consensus to share 75% of the LOs, leaving the remaining 25% up to the individual instructor. Instructors retained creativity and flexibility in their approach to teaching as the shared LOs did not dictate curriculum, instructional approach, or student/instructor interaction. The authors emphasize the importance of gaining departmental buy-in, establishing consensus instructional LOs, and gathering evidence on student outcomes. The redesign added interactive elements to traditional lectures with peer instruction using clickers, simulations, etc. Assessments were prioritized in the redesign to gather evidence for course effectiveness and were used to inform future instruction. Course activities were aligned with LOs through increased active engagement, making course content explicit, and requiring students to demonstrate their understanding. The study analyzed conceptional learning, traditional exam results, and student attitudes of 488 students at four institutions. Attendance in the redesigned sections increased slightly compared to the traditional lecture sections. Students in redesigned sections (a) had more positive attitudes reported in the end-of-semester survey, (b) were more likely to come for optional tutoring (~50% of the class), (c) spent more time on course content (evidenced by an increased likelihood to come to homework help sessions and more time reported spent on homework), and (d) performed the equivalent of two letter grades higher than students in the standard lecture courses on a concept diagnostic with validity evidence. Additional outcomes include an increase in expert-like problem-solving skills and positive student attitudes. However, the authors caution that implementation, rather than specific course elements, had a large effect on the success of this redesign effort. These results were observed for students at all performance levels and at all institutions participating in this study (Chasteen et al., 2012b). The outcomes reported in this study provide instructors with evidence that course transformations based on articulating measurable LOs and aligning instruction with the LOs result in positive student attitudes and improved conceptional understanding without constraining instructors to a specific pedagogical approach.
Armbruster, P., Patel, M., Johnson, E., & Weiss, M. (2009). Active learning and student-centered pedagogy improve student attitudes and performance in introductory biology. CBE－Life Sciences Education, 8(3), 203-213. The authors report the results of an introductory biology course redesign over three years to improve student satisfaction and performance. Student enrollment each year ranged from 165-179 students. In the redesign, the content was reordered to teach specific content within conceptual themes. The redesign used the LOs as a “road map” to shape assessment and classroom activities, and exam and quiz questions were labeled with the LOs to ensure alignment of assessment questions. Learning objectives were displayed to students on slides every class session. Active and problem-based learning activities and clicker questions were explicitly aligned with the LOs and incorporated into every lecture. In the redesign, the quantity of higher-level exam questions increased from 15 to 25%. Despite the increase in Bloom’s cognitive level, student satisfaction and exam scores were significantly higher than the course before the redesign. Students reported the presentation of LOs as the most helpful element of the course redesign. Furthermore, instructor morale and enthusiasm for teaching the course were positively impacted, and departmental change was reported. The outcomes reported for this redesign encourage instructors to consider engaging in a collaborative, departmental supported effort that considers theme-based content aligned with published LOs, increased assessment opportunities, and student-centered, peer-peer pedagogy.
Dobbins, K., Brooks, S., Scott, J.J.A., Rawlinson, M., & Norman, RI (2016). Understanding and enacting learning outcomes: The academic’s perspective. Studies in Higher Education, 41, 1217-1235. The authors report how instructors in different disciplines at the same institution used LOs, assessed the impact of LOs on student learning, and prioritized LOs. Although many instructors report LOs as fulfilling an administrative requirement, the authors offer evidence that LOs serve as a helpful learning tool to students and help instructors design their assessments. Over 60% of instructors in all three disciplines regarded LOs as useful for structuring courses and programs, and about half reported that LOs helped design assessments. The majority (80%+) of instructors from all disciplines said that LOs are helpful learning tools for students. More biological science and medical instructors than English instructors expressed concern that LOs might restrict student learning. Compared to instructors in the school of medicine, English and biological science instructors were more likely to report that the primary use of LOs was to fulfill an administrative mandate. Depending on the department, instructors were more likely to use LOs at the module level or individual class sessions.