Write Clear, Measurable Course Objectives

Write clear, measurable course objectives in SMAET form. "smart objectives" by cambodia4kidsorg is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Write clear, measurable course objectives in SMART form.

Even before you start storyboarding modules, you should write clear, measurable course objectives. In our last segment, we discussed the need for meeting with subject matter experts and stakeholders as part of analyzing the needs for a course in the Analysis phase of ADDIE. We also mentioned that even if you use an agile methodology like SAM for course design, you still have to go through the analysis phase to determine what the course needs to cover and how you will measure the learners’ mastery level of the course content.

You want to have the following items when the analysis phase is complete and before you move to the materials design phase:

  • Course content and sequencing in the form of a unit plan
  • Course objectives

In this segment, we look at how to write clear and measurable course objectives.

How Many Course Objectives Do You Need?

The short answer is, it depends. The length and depth of the course will determine the number of objectives needed. A three-hour workshop course may only require you to write three or four clear, measurable course objectives. A week-long, 40-hour course may have as five or six objectives.

If you teach or design courses in academia, it’s not uncommon to have as many as eight to ten course objectives. In academia, most institutions are on quarter or semester terms, meaning that courses are typically 9-18 weeks in length.

What is the Difference Between Goals and Objectives?

The terms goal and objective are often used interchangeably in common conversation, but they are not the same thing. Caroline Forsey defines goals as results you want to achieve. Goals are usually broad, and long-term. She further defines an objective as the specific measurable actions that employees or learners must take to complete their goals. Even though some goals may be short-term, they may not always be measurable. Many people write SMART goals. The acronym SMART stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Actionable (or Achievable)
  • Relevant
  • Timely

Writing goals in SMART format essentially turns them into objectives. This format is similar in many ways to behavioral objectives used in academia. We recommend SMART goals as many corporate course designers, subject matter experts, and stakeholders are already familiar with them.

Sample Course Goals

Let’s use a sample course to develop objectives. One of the courses I teach is a web development class to high school and college students. I designed this course using modern adult education learning theory. Typically, such a class may last six to eight weeks in a workshop format, or 9-16 weeks in an academic format. In typical form, the goals for this course may be written as:

  1. Design a responsive web site using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript
  2. Link to other pages on the site and to external pages
  3. Use appropriate colors, fonts, images, and media to get the client’s message across
  4. Design each page and the site for Site Engine Optimization

These goals as they stand are not objectives nor are they written in SMART form.

Rewrite Course Goals into SMART Objectives

Writing course goals in SMART form turns them into course objectives. Let’s rewrite these course goals as objectives. At the end of the course, the student can:

  1. Design a web site with a home page and at least four linked pages using HTML to define content and structure, CSS to define the style and presentation of the pages, and JavaScript for interactions and animations. Ensure the site is responsive to the size of the screen in use so the site is usable on mobile devices, computers and high-definition monitors.
  2. Link four pages to the home page. Include at least one link to an external web page and include a longer (500 word) article with internal intra-article navigation to various parts of the article.
  3. Define appropriate color scheme, font standards per client’s branding scheme or develop your own using principles of modern color theory and topography.
  4. Include Search Engine Optimization meta tags on all pages, including at least four keywords, and a 250-character description. Your page title and h1 heading should follow SEO principles. Use subheadings to optimize SEO.

The actual course has eight objectives. The four rewritten objectives are specific, measurable, actionable, relevant to web development, and timely. These objectives must be demonstrated by the end of the course.

Next Steps

With your unit plan and course objectives in place, yo are ready to begin the storyboard design of your course and its materials. We cover storyboarding in the next segment.


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