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Course Learning Objectives

Course Learning Objectives (CLOs) are clear, concise statements of what learners will be able to perform at the conclusion of instructional activities. Typically a 3-4 unit course will have between 5-12 CLO’s. Each CLO must be stated in terms of a specific, measurable outcome and should be student-focused and action oriented. While it is advisable to have a range of lower- and higher-order thinking objectives, upper-level courses (300-and 400-level) should include more higher-order thinking objectives.

Course Objectives and Course Outcomes

While some programs at Cal Poly distinguish between learning objectives and learning outcomes, this distinction is not universally recognized on campus. For our purposes, learning objectives includes both objectives and outcomes.

What makes a good Course Learning Objective?

Course Learning Objectives (CLOs) are clear, concise statements of what learners will be able to perform at the conclusion of instructional activities. Typically a 3-4 unit course will have between 5-12 CLOs. Each CLO must be stated in terms of a specific, measurable outcome and should be student-focused and action-oriented. While it is advisable to have a range of lower- and higher-order thinking objectives, upper-level courses (300 and 400) should include more higher-order thinking objectives. Clear CLOs not only help guide instructional activities, but also help guide other instructors who might also teach the course.

Writing Good Course Learning Objectives

One method for ensuring that the CLO is student-focused and action-oriented is to phrase it in a way that completes the following statement with a strong relevant verb: “By the end of the course, my students should be able to…”

To articulate good and varied learning objectives, it is useful to consult learning taxonomies. For example, the table below shows Benjamin Bloom’s revised taxonomy for conceptualizing different levels of thinking. Studies have shown that students who are asked to learn at the upper end of the taxonomy (Analyzing, Evaluating, Creating) retain and are able to apply the information better than those where the learning expectation is geared toward the lower end (Remembering, Understanding, Applying).

Observable Verbs [1] for Instructional Objectives, Based on Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy

Depending on the meaning in use, some verbs can apply to more than one category.

Revised from: http://www2.gsu.edu/~mstmbs/CrsTools/cogverbs.html

 
lower-order thinking  
REMEMBERING UNDERSTANDING
Recall of information about concepts. Represent concepts, e.g., in one's own words.

define label list match name

recognize recall repeat
define describe identify indicate locate restate select translate
 
Higher-order thinking      
APPLYING ANALYZING EVALUATING CREATING
Use concepts in a new situation. Use concepts to operate on information and/or show relationships among concepts. Use concepts to form a new whole and/or build new relationships. Use concepts to make judgments about information.
apply categorize classify demonstrate discuss explain illustrate relate solve analyze compare contrast criticize differentiate discriminate discuss distinguish interpret argue assess compare defend evaluate judge predict rate score compose construct create design explain formulate organize synthesize

Avoid vague and confusing verbs such as know, comprehend, understand, appreciate, familiarize, study, be aware, become acquainted with, gain knowledge of, cover, learn, and realize. CLO’s must be measurable.

Expanded Course Content

The Expanded Course Content provides an example of a weekly outline of topics and subtopics to support the fulfillment of the Course Learning Objectives. Labs, activities and exams are also often listed in this section. Together, the Course Learning Objectives and Expanded Course Content should provide enough detail so that another instructor could teach the course with respect to its content, depth, pace, and level.

CLOs and Corresponding Assessments

CLOs should be carefully aligned with assessments, as the course proposal process asks you to state explicitly how you will assess each CLO. Assessments should be more detailed than just “homework” or “exam.” Note: A CLO can have more than one assessment. The Academic Senate Curriculum Committee will pay particular attention to the articulation of CLOs and their alignment with assessments and extended course activities.

CLO: Write in a logical manner with minimal grammatical errors.

Assessment Method: 3-5 page persuasive essay arguing for establishment of digital “cold spots” on campus

CLO: Design a research proposal for Natural Resource Ecology and Habitat Management.

Assessment Method: A research proposal that identifies an ecological system to study, formulates a hypothesis, and lists the sampling methods to be used in the research.

CLO: Compare how structure and function are related for key structures of the human nervous system.

Assessment Method: Diagram, label and explain the structures and functions of the Schwann cell found in the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS).

To ensure the connection between CLOs and various course activities and assessments, you might construct a table* that highlights the relationship. For example:

*Adapted from Boston University’s Center for Excellence and Innovation in Teaching
LEARNING OBJECTIVE INSTRUCTIONAL ACTIVITIES ASSESSMENT
Differentiate between qualitative and quantitative assessment

Lecture, group activity

Exam #1, Assessment

Portfolio #1, Mastery Questions
Design a community service project. Group Planning Activities, Community Guest Lectures Presentation to panel of community members
Write a poem that uses imagery and structure typical of early-nineteenth-century American poets.

Read and discuss 19th century poets, writing workshops

A poem graded with a rubric

Additional Resources

Setting Learning Outcomes

Writing Measurable Learning Outcomes

Verbs for Developing Learning Objectives

CLO’s Checklist

Use the following checklist to help you write course learning objectives and align them with assessments and extended course activities.

  • Focuses on what the student will be able to do
  • Includes a single, measurable action verb
  • Avoids vague and confusing verbs such as know and understand
  • Is aligned with an appropriate assessment and extended course activities
  • Fits within program goals
  • Includes a variety of assessment modes for various learning styles

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