Visualising The Importance of Learning Objectives

Part of the Visualising Education Blog Series

Learning objectives are at the centre of the lesson in the same way the sun is in the centre of the solar system. Learning objectives are about helping the student to understand what they will be learning during the lesson (progression) not their attainment (outcome). Learning objectives are also there to guide the creation, implementation and assessment of the student’s progression (lesson planning), and as such clear success criteria need to be established or created with the students. Also, learning objectives help to inform differentiation and scaffolding which teachers put into place to ensure learning takes place. However, it is not the learning objective(s) which determines the learning episode (pedagogy or andragogy approach), rather it is the teacher’s skillset and understanding of class dynamics, which is offset against the development of, arguably, secondary requirements such as: a) personal, social and emotional development, b) employability skills, c) numeracy, literacy and ICT skills and d) equality, diversity and British values.

1) Interdependency of the Learning Objectives and Learning Activity/ Episode(s)


Figure 1) Interdependency of the learning objectives and learning activity/ episode(s)

The learning objective and learning episode are interdependent: the learning episode must help the student achieve the learning objective, otherwise progression and or attainment will not take place. For example, if the learning episode is to watch a video and the learning objective is to critically evaluate, you as the teacher need to know what information/skills the video will provide for the students, which will enable them to achieve the learning objective (critically evaluate). It may be that there are several learning episodes (video, group discussion, fact sheet) which scaffold the learners’ understanding and potential to achieve the learning objective. Therefore, teacher assessment will need to take place.

2) Interdependency of the Learning Activity, Assessment and Learning Objective


Figure 2
) Interdependency of the learning activity, assessment and learning objective(s)

To ensure that the learning episode has achieved its desired outcome in relation to the learning objective, as teachers we need to have a set of indicators which can be used to demonstrate the student’s new level of knowledge and understanding. This could be based on teachers’ questioning, class/ group discussion (level of explanation linked to Bloom’s Taxonomy) and so on. However, ‘new knowledge and understanding’ implies that there must have been previous knowledge and understanding; thus, progression is the difference between a student’s understanding before learning (or before the learning episode) compared to knowledge and understanding after learning. For example, students in small groups, undertake a starter activity which requires them to complete a critical evaluation of mobile phones. The teacher then listens to each group’s discussion during the learning episode (teacher assessment), and supports and directs students’ thinking (questioning, feedback, feed forward).

At the end of the learning episode, each group feeds back to the whole class (teacher assessment, peer assessment, consolidation of learning). If the students clearly understand the critical evaluation, some learning episodes could be skipped as they are not needed (adapting the lesson based on teacher assessment). However, it is likely that the class will be divided in to different groups, e.g. those who have little understanding and those who know roughly what to do. This is a make or break moment: how will you differentiate learning for these two groups of learners? (For example, adapting the lesson based on teacher assessment, classroom management, learners on task.) It is inappropriate to leave one set of learners sitting waiting for teacher direction, whilst directing the other group. Equally, you cannot use a throwaway activity to keep the other group entertained whilst they wait.

Suggestion: separate the class into learning groups, either

  • mixed learning levels to encourage peer support, or
  • grouped based on current knowledge and understanding (those who know roughly what to do)

The group who know roughly what to do could have the ‘apply new knowledge’ activity: they have five minutes to review the activity and make a list of questions or a writing frame. This will give the teacher five minutes to set the group with little understanding of critical evaluation, the next planned learning episode. See section 4 for more detail.

3) Students’ Understanding of the Learning Objective is Critical


Figure 3) Aligning the students understanding of learning objective and lesson

Challenging the students’ understanding of the learning objectives is critical: it is imperative that students understand what work they need to complete during the lesson or learning episode. Teacher questioning – challenging the students’ understanding –  can be used to assess student readiness for the coming learning episode/event.  It is also used to align the students’ understanding, their perception of the topic and knowledge of core information. This is a critical stage, as the students begin to build success criteria or a list of ‘things’ they will need to do to achieve success.  As the teacher, you could make this explicit by asking the students to create success criteria.  This could be completed as a whole class or individually, followed by feedback to the whole class, enabling students to improve their own list. Alternatively the teacher writes the list on the board. It is important that the teacher aligns the success criteria with the assessment requirements, thus helping the student to achieve their potential and maximising progression.

A great alternative is to show exemplar work of a very high standard and quality and ask the students to create success criteria based on the exemplar work.  This will also give the students something to aim for. I often say that this exemplar work is at merit level (average) as this gives the low achievers something to aim for and the high achievers something to supersede.

4) Learning Objective, Learning Activities and Inclusive Curriculum

Now that the teacher has considered what learning activity they will use to foster learning and how the learning objective can be assessed using this learning activity, the teacher needs to consider an approach to inclusive learning, see figure 4. It is important that the learning activity is suitable for the range of learners within the class, and that all have the same chance at achieving success (attainment) and progression in their understanding.


Figure 4) Inclusive curriculum, learning objectives and learning episode

Typically, teachers plan a lesson for most learners and then differentiate for the students who need more support, and those labelled as gifted and talented. However, it does not matter which approach the teacher uses to plan an inclusive learning experience they need to consider the following:

4.1) Learning and personalisation

First I make a distinction between personalisation of learning (allowing students to internalise information/ learning in a meaningful way) and individualisation of learning (each student has their own learning plan and learning materials). Personalisation could be asking each student to take the information and explain it in their own words or explain it in a different context. It could also be allowing the students to situate their own learning. For example, instead of expecting everyone to present on the subject of multiple personality disorder, you could give the students a list of conditions and disorders to choose from.

Personalisation is about allowing the student to connect with their own learning in a meaningful and authentic way. This leads to increased motivation, resilience and output quality, continued below in learning and scaffolding

4.2) Learning and scaffolding

See, Differentiation and scaffolding

Allowing students who have chosen the same cognitive disorder to work in groups, will foster peer support (scaffolding each other’s learning): information and research will be explained at a more appropriate level for group members. They will check each other’s work to make sure it is correct and support other group members in creating the required output (poster, presentation etc…).  This takes the pressure off the teacher, allowing more time for assessment, feedback and questioning. Critically, it also fosters independent learning skills, collaborative learning, social (soft) skills and friendships.

4.3) Learning and differentiation

See, Differentiation and scaffolding

Differentiation, in this scenario, is closely linked to the personalisation of learning. For example, by allowing students to choose the output (poster, presentation etc…) the teacher encourages students to play to their strengths.  However, there are other ways in which differentiation can be provided. For example; initial learning resources are easy to engage with and offer just enough information for the learners who have additional needs. The teacher could provide web links which are categorised into a) core knowledge (pass), b) understanding the topic (merit) and c) challenge yourself (distinction).  Other items such as writing frames, templates, videos and discovery questions could be provided.

4.4) Learning and independent learners

With effective scaffolding and differentiation the teacher is creating an environment which fosters independent learning, leading to independent learners. However, when the teacher is helping students to engage with independent learning they will need to differentiate their support.  Some students will need some guidance in the form of questioning e.g. “How does X interact with Y?” Whereas other students would need much more support.

Other techniques include the ‘three before me strategy’, which puts a requirement on the student to ask three other students for support before they ask you (the teacher). However, it is important that the teacher enforces this otherwise the students will stop using it.  This could be something as simple as asking the student which three students they asked before they came to you.  Also, this will tell the teacher that at least three other students do not know the answer and it may be necessary to provide whole class intervention to address the issues (teacher assessment).

As suggested earlier, consider providing exemplar work of a very high standard and quality, indicate that the work is at merit level (average), this gives low achievers something to aim for and high achievers something to supersede.

4.5) Learning and the real world

I used the term ‘real world’ to cover everything from real world examples to embedding cross curriculum requirements such as numeracy, literacy, employability skills, equality and diversity. One of the most effective ways I have used in the past, when completing project work, was to integrate cross curriculum requirements in the assessment criteria, encouraging the students to complete and write notes on the assessment criteria in real-time.

An alternative is to create a criteria list which is permanently on display and ask the students to look at the list and identify how many criteria they have hit that lesson. The benefit of addressing cross curriculum requirements in this way, is that it reinforces to the student that they are using these criteria implicitly, and it informs the teacher about the usefulness of the embedded curriculum within their lessons, converting student/ teacher assessment into student feedback.

5) Summary

I have summarised how the learning objective is pivotal to the teaching, learning and assessment process whilst suggesting that there are four discrete, mutually dependent components when planning a lesson, see Figure 5.


Figure 5) Visualising the importance of learning objectives

Objectives, Outcomes and Learning Statements: The Debate


How to use them….. I think!

I often have discussions with people about objectives, outcomes and learning statement but everyone has their own opinion on what is best.  For trainee teachers this is typically one of the hardest concepts to get right because of this wide range of opinions about ‘what is right and what is wrong.’  The Assessment & Learning Pocketbook (Ian Smith (2007)) does a very nice job in outlining how to go about creating learning intentions and success criteria.  Please note I will not be discussing modeling, process, product, syntax or lexical usage to make it easier to understand the principles.

The Objective, Outcome and Learning Statement

The outcomes are used to tell the learner what they will produced (we are going to make an outstanding poster about volcanos) whereas the objectives is why the learner is creating the poster (you will be able to state different features of a volcano).  Outcomes are typically a medium which is used to practice or introduce knowledge, skills or develop understanding. The objective is linked to the curriculum requirements (National Curriculum or GCSE Specification) and by the end of the course, unit or module the learner will have learnt all the requirements of the curriculum.

The statement below is a fusion of the lesson outcome and objective, creating the overall learning intention (sometimes call learning statement) for the lesson.

This lesson, we are going to produce an outstanding poster to help us learn about the different features of a volcano.

Debate: State Just The Outcome

If we present just the outcome (we are going to make an outstanding poster about volcanos) it does not tell the student what they are learning.  It assumes that the students will implicitly know or that you (the teacher) will tell them. This means that you will have to show the objective alongside the outcome.

Debate: State Just The Objective

If we present just the objective (you will be able to state different features of a volcano) it does not tell the student how they will learner the different features of the volcano.  It assumes that the learner will implicitly know or that you (the teacher) will tell them. This means that you will have to show the outcome alongside the objective.

Debate: Both The Outcome and Outcome

If we present both the objective and outcome to the learner (see below) we are presenting two discrete pieces of information (or statements) and the learners treat it as such. However, people remember what they find interesting (like) about the statement (poster, volcano) and forget what they are not interested in (state, features)

Todays Lesson:

Objective) You will be able to state different features of a volcano

Outcome) We are going to make an outstanding poster about volcanos

Debate: State Just The Learning Statement

By using the learning statement (see below) the learner is being informed about the lesson outcome and objective in one piece of information or statement reducing the cognitive load.  This approach makes the objective and outcome interlinked (cannot have one without the other) promoting the importance of both the product and the learning.

Todays Lesson:

We are going to produce an outstanding poster to help us learn about the different features of a volcano.


Questioning Learners About The Lesson Requirements

Regardless of the method you use, you will need to question the learners about what they will be learning. We do this to make sure that the learner has a clear understanding of their future learning.  It is also an excellent way of producing a success criteria with the students.

  • Know what they need to produce by the end of the lesson
    • Tell me what you will have created by the end of the lesson?
    • Are there different types of posters?
    • State some feature which posters have?
    • Describe to me what a volcano poster might look like?
  • Know how they will produce it and what skills they are likely to use
    • Paper or computer?
    • What software will you use?
    • What software skills will you use?
    • Where will you find help if needed (three before me)?
    • Where will you save the poster and what will you name it?
  • Know why they are producing the product
    • State why we are making the poster?
    • What type of facts might we discover?
    • What keywords might we use?
    • What colours do we associate with volcanos?

Where Next

Success Criteria, Why Do I Always Get It Wrong

Aims, Objectives and Outcomes

  • The aim refers to what you want to achieve, state in one sentence
    • The aim of this research proposal is to …
    • The aim of this research project is to …..
    • To explore…
  • Always number your objective, outcomes and success criteria
  • The objective is how you are going to achieve it
  • The deliverables are objects which you will produce along the way
  • These are not hypotheses and are often used as key components within the action plan
  • The outcomes (or success criteria) are what the artefact will allow us to achieve:
    • Increase in processing speed will give a quicker response time
    • A load balance across multiple nodes will reduce the risk of server crashing
  • Some universities and students like to divide the objectives into different groups, but this is dependent on your report as you may not have business objectives.
    • Report objectives
    • Personal objectives
    • Technical objectives
    • Business objectives
  • They can be highlighted in a table, written in bullet points or within-text
  • I have highlighted two of the most common approaches below
    • Ask your supervisor which method they require\ want


Computer Science tend to prefer this approach 

  • Aim
    • The aim of this research project is to explore the relationship between customers and website interaction leading to a confirmed sale
  • Objectives
    1. To investigate (alternative solution or software)
    2. To design (an artefact to overcome problem)
    3. To explore (potential software requirements)
    4. To examine (how users interact with the software)
    5. To compare (performance or features)
    6. To document (the system using technical drawings)
  • Deliverables
    1. Write (a literature review on ‘topic’)
    2. Create (a project plan in the form of a Gantt chart)
    3. Produce (design documentation)
    4. Manufacture (a prototype of the ‘software’)
    5. Test (the function of the prototype)
    6. Demonstrate (the ‘software’ solving the problem)
    7. See deliverables
  • Outcome (Success Criteria)
    1. The number of website sales will increase, identified through sales comparison
    2. Promotions and reminders (call to action) will lead to website sales, identified through web metrics
    3. The speed to find an item will increase (time to target), identified through web metrics
    4. Customer satisfaction level will increase, identified through web metrics


Social Sciences tend to prefer this approach

NoAim Objective  Measure or Outcome
1(I want) to explore the relationship between the teaching assistants estimation of students level of engagement and disruption during the course of a lesson1) I will achieve this by using the captured data from the teaching assistant ratings to plot a line graph to identify the relationship between the students level of engagement and disruption during the course of a lesson1) The line graph will show that has the students level of engagement increases the level of disruption decreases
2(I want) to explore the relationship between the teaching assistants estimation of student targets success along with levels of engagement and disruption2) I will achieve this by using the captured data from the teaching assistant ratings to plot a line graph to identify the relationship between the students level of engagement and disruption and target success during the course of a lesson2) The line graph will show that has the students level of engagement increases their target success will also increase but their level of disruption will decrease
3(I want) to compare the teaching assistant rating values with that of the teacher when assessing the students targets success along with levels of engagement and disruption3) I will achieve this by using the captured data from teachers and teaching assistants  a line graph will be plotted to show any divergence relationship between the teacher and teaching assistants ratings.3) The line graph will show that the teaching assistant ratings for engagement, disruption and target success will reflect that of the teacher