13 March 2018

How many learning objectives?

I am teaching an online course this semester, and I had to undergo training and review of the class before it ran. In preparing it, one of the key things that the instructions stressed was the importance of having learning objectives.

All that material gave me good insight into how to write a single leaning objective, there was almost nothing about how to put them all together.
And right now I’m struggling with what a good number of learning objectives is. But so far, the only direct answer I’ve seen to that is:

How many learning outcomes should I have?
This is tied to the length and weight of the course
How many learning objectives should I have?
This is tied to the number of learning outcomes.

You’re not helping.

Most courses track lessons in some standard unit of time. A day. A week. Surely there has to be some sort of thinking about what a reasonable number of learning objectives is for a given unit of time. It’s probably not out of line for me to guess that one hundred learning objectives in a single day would be too much. On the other hand, a single learning objective for a week might be too low.

Right now, I have some weeks that have ten or more learning objectives. I’m wondering if that’s too much. And I’m just lost. I have no way of knowing.

It might sound it’s just a matter of looking at student performance and adjusting as you go. But in a completely online course, it is so hard to adjust. You have to prepare almost everything in advance, and you can’t easily go faster or slower in the way that you can when you meet students in person.

I’m not sure how much student feedback will help, because everyone’s tendency is probably to say, “Yes, give me fewer objectives so I have more time to master each one.” And sometimes students aren’t good at assessing what they need to learn.

Maybe this is a gap in the education literature that needs filling.

Picture from here.


Peter said...

The number of learning objectives isn't a good measure, I don't think. What's important is that everything you teach is there for a reason. That is, the content, how you teach it, and how students learn it support one or more learning objectives.

If you have a high-level objective (high on Bloom's Taxonomy, for example) then it might take a entire class, maybe 2 or 3, to get that content across. A low-level objective, on the other hand, might be achieved in 10 minutes.

It helps a lot if you can also identify 3, 4, maybe 5 "course-level" learning objectives. The big picture, big body of knowledge, "how you'll be different by the end of this course." Then map each (topic-level) learning objective onto the course-level ones. If a topic doesn't support the course, maybe drop it from the curriculum. If a course level objective has no support, re-think the big picture.

If you have a minute, I have some slides from a recent learning outcomes workshop I ran:



Zen Faulkes said...

Yes, I agree that some learning objectives are simpler than others, so hard and fast rules are impossible. But surely there's some point of diminishing returns. Students could could be overwhelmed by having a length list of objectives, even if each one is short.

I'm also thinking about peer review. If I give students 50 objectives in a week, and other instructors give 3 in a week, it might be hard for me to justify the huge differences in number of objectives, particularly if they are two sections of the same course.

As the old saying goes, "The hunter who chases two rabbits catches neither."