Clearly written goals and objectives serve several important functions in an online course. They provide students a “successful pathway to learning,” indicate to the instructor teaching points to hit when teaching the course, and suggest appropriate teaching and assessment methods, says Sandra Bennett, instructional designer at Wilmington University and winner of the 2013 and 2014 Blackboard Catalyst Award—Exemplary Course Instructional Designer.
“The more clearly written the goals and objectives are, the better the students are going to understand what it is that's expected of them throughout the course and by the end of the course,” Bennett says.
When thinking about goals and objectives, it's important to distinguish between the two. Goals are broad statements that describe a course. They serve as the umbrella under which the more specific learning objectives reside. “Goals are abstract to students, but once we lay down the specific, precise, tangible objectives, which are under that umbrella, it will lead to students obtaining or mastering those broader goals,” Bennett says.
Objectives are “the measurable, tangible, observable behaviors that we would see from a student” as indicated in his or her assignments or other activities in the course, Bennett says.
Bennett clearly states the goals and objectives in her syllabi, and in each weekly unit introduction she details the goals and objectives for that week. Doing this helps students see what they are going to be able to do by the end of each week.
Students tend to be more motivated when they can see how the course activities relate to the objectives and overarching goals of the course and program. When students don't see the purpose of an assignment, they tend to view it as busywork.
Bennett offers the following recommendations for writing online course objectives:
Matching instructional methods to objectives
When selecting instructional methods to serve a particular learning objective in an online course, it's important to be explicit and to consider different ways of meeting the objective.
“The instructional methods almost have to be self-explanatory,” Bennett says. They have to be easily understood without the instructors being present. In addition to text instruction, Bennett includes audio and video, not just for the content but also for the directions on how to complete assignments and participate in the course.
“When I develop courses, I like to tap into different learning styles because I know that not everyone gains and learns information just by reading … I make sure they're reading a little or listening or watching and participating. Whether it's the lecture or a chat or a collaboration-type situation, I find that I have to provide a variety of ways for students to learn because, ultimately, you learn differently than I do, and so does every other student out there. If I provide a variety of types of instruction, they're going to meet that objective.”