Blended Learning Course Design Begins with Strong Learning Objectives

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from the whitepaper Blended Learning Course Design, which provides 10 recommendations for successfully designing a blended course. The following post discusses learning objectives.

When you undertake a blended learning course, you can’t just think about what assignments and activities you are going to move online. You have to reconceptualize the entire course. This means starting with your learning goals. The place to begin is by asking yourself: What do I want students to learn?

If you don’t start with a clear idea of your learning objectives, you’re not going to end up where you want to go. A theme throughout this white paper is the reminder to keep thinking about the overall goals that you’ve created for the course. While this is not meant to be a white paper on writing learning objectives, one helpful tip is to remember to use action verbs as much as possible when outlining your course goals.

Here are examples of some possible learning objectives in history, ranging from ineffective to very effective:

  • Poor: Know the causes of the American Revolution
  • Better: List three causes of the American Revolution
  • Best: Given a possible cause of the American Revolution, provide reasons to support that cause

When you write learning objectives, it is very helpful to keep in mind how you might write a test question based on those objectives. Verbs like “know” are too amorphous to be very helpful. How would you test and how will you assess whether students “know” the causes of the American Revolution? The verb “list” is more specific. Students can write a list of possible causes to study.

Even better, though, is to think at higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. At the higher levels, you get the students to analyze a particular cause critically or provide reasons why something occurred. You have them do some evaluation or some synthesis using higher-order thinking. The more you can move your learning objectives beyond the lowest levels of thinking, the more you will improve your courses through blended learning.

Here’s another example of learning objectives, this time taken from a science class:

  • Poor: Understand hybrid orbital theory
  • Better: Describe the underlying construct for hybrid orbitals
  • Best: Given a molecule, identify the hybrid orbitals and explain why they exist

Understanding a particular theory isn’t that impressive. Far better is trying to encourage students to describe some of the constructs, or better yet, apply them to an example. It would be fairly easy to write a test question based on the best learning objective here.

It is important to have learning objectives for the overall course and for each unit within a course. Naturally, they will be different for every discipline. You need to think through what you want students to accomplish and how you are going to know when they have accomplished it. This will help you map out your blended course.

With strong, clear learning objectives, you will be prepared and organized when it is time to begin moving some of those topics online. You’re going to be able to make informed decisions about which content to put where and whether to have them complete certain activities before or after class time. But it all begins with the learning objectives.

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