What are Instructional Objectives?

Now that you have prepared your course content outline, you are ready to write specific instructional objectives, know also as behavioral, terminal, and performance objectives--statements that describe what the student will be able to do upon completion of the instructional experience. You will learn how to write instructional objectives in behavioral terms because:

Instructional objectives are not the same as "instructor goals". which tell what the instructor intends to do; nor are they the same as "course goals", which are general statements telling about the course (as found in course catalog descriptions). Behavioral objectives are much more specific and are student centered. It is unfortunate if what an instructor states as goals and that which the same instructor does (implementation of tests and implied objectives) are two separate matters, because it creates an unwanted dichotomy that confuses students. To students, your objectives and test questions should be clear indicators of your real goals. Matching objectives to goals, then stating the objectives clearly and in behavioral terms, while measuring student learning against those objectives facilitates teaching effectiveness and student learning.

Although time-consuming to write objectives in behavioral terms and, for reasons discussed later in this chapter, you may choose to not try and cover all content with behaviorally stated objectives, attempting to do so helps to organize the learning for your students. And that is Important-because your job is to help students to learn, not to confuse them We have known far too many college instructors who a guessing game, where the students' task was to guess what it was the instructor expected them to learn; students who got the boner grades were those who nap guessed best.


When preparing behavioral objectives you should ask yourself: "How is the student to demonstrate that the objective has been achieved?". For example, enough the following might be an appropriate course goal, it is flat a behaviorally stated objectives "The student will develop an appreciation for art." It is too ambiguous. Although "will develop an appreciation" is a student.centered phrase, it does not state how the intended learning is to be demonstrated. The objective should include a behavior that will demonstrate the intended appreciation, such as: The student will demonstrate an appreciation for an by volunteering to guide visitors at a local,an gallery." We assume that volunteering to serve as a gallery guide is indicative of the expected achievement of appreciation.

The example in the preceding paragraph represents a "responding" objective in the affective domain (see next section). For evaluation, objectives of that domain are complicated because they represent behaviors involving attitudes, values, and feelings, that are difficult to measure objectively. Examples for each domain will follow, but first let's consider the key components of a behaviorally stated objective.

A completely stated behavioral objective has four key components. Referred to as the ABCDs of writing behavioral objectives, the key components are:

  1. The audience (the student for whom the objective is intended).
  2. The terminal behavior (the anticipated measurable performance).
  3. The observable conditions (the setting in which the behavior is to be demonstrated and observed).
  4. The performance level (the degree of proficiency, primarily for the purpose of evaluation, and frequently omitted). For exercises that follow you may ignore this ingredient, as we assume a mastery (100 percent) performance level expectation.


Behavioral objectives are usually written with a beginning phrase such as "The student will be able to ...". In order to eliminate repetitious writing I suggest that when preparing objectives for inclusion in your course syllabus and course of study, you introduce all of the objectives with the following sentence written once: "Upon completion (of this course) you will be able to ..,'" then proceed to list each behavioral objective by its anticipated measurable performance, thus eliminating repetition of the phrase "You will be able to..." (YWABT). An alternative is to begin each objective with the abbreviation "YWBAT," followed by the anticipated performance. Also, especially for the course syllabus, I prefer the personalization provided by the use of "you will be able to . . .," rather than student will be able to.. .

Anticipated Measurable Performance

Success with writing behavioral objectives depends on the selection of performance words that are measurable, i.e., action verbs. The primary ingredient of a well-stated objective is the anticipated measurable performance. There are verbs to avoid--verbs that are too vague, ambiguous, and that are not clearly measurable. Verbs to Avoid

With Exercise 1, try your skill with recognizing Instructional Objectives that are measurable. While other components, not yet discussed, may be absent, with Exercise 1 our concern is the question "is the objective student-centered and measurable?"  Exercise 1


Another component is the condition, or setting, in which the performance is to be demonstrated and observed. Returning to the earlier example, about the student demonstrating an appreciation for art, to include the condition, we write as follow: "From a list of options, the student will demonstrate an appreciation of art by volunteering to serve as a gallery guide". The condition is the "list of options", one of which is assumed by the instructor to best indicate achievement of that objective.

Performance Level

The fourth and final component of a completely state behavioral objective is the degree or level of expedited performance. For one or reason, this ingredient is frequently omitted. In the previous example, because the expected performance is Mastery1, the level is omitted(because it is understood).

Using another example, in another domain, suppose a mathematics instructor's goal is to teach students to solve quadratic equations. For this goad, a behavioral objective could read as: "When give ten quadratic equations (the condition), the student will solve them (the Measurable behavior performance), with 80 percent accuracy (the performance level).

Performance level is used to evaluate student achievement; sometimes it is used to evaluate instructor effectiveness. Student grades might be based on performance levels; evaluation of instructor effectiveness might be based on student performance levels. As colleges move ever closer to competency base (know also as outcome-based or performance-based) instruction, instructors' knowledge of how to write behavioral objectives becomes significantly important.


Useful for planning are the following three domains tor classifying instructional objectives. They are:

Objectives written by college instructors usually fall within the cognitive domain, but when you look at the instructional goals of those same instructors, there also is interest in psychomotor and in affective learning. Perhaps instructor anention is too trequently directed to the cognitive while only assuming that the psychomotor and affective will take care of themselves. Some argue the reverse, that is, when the affective is directly anended, the psychomotor and cognitive will develop. Leaving the argument to the learning theorists, I shall say simply that instructors should direct their planning so that students are guided from the lowest to highest levels of operation, and that attention is given to student development within all three domains.

Undoubtedly, from your own formal education you can recall classes where instructor expectations went no further than the lowest cognitive level--the simple recall of isolated facts. Effective learning extends beyond mere memorization ot facts. Indeed, to develop student skills in reasoning and in critical thinking, such must be the case. Competent college instructors provide instructional objectives and experiences designed to raise the level of student thinking and behaving. Later exercises are designed to help you learn how to do that. Now, your attention is directed to the hierarchies of levels of operation within each of the three domains. Operation at each level requires the ability to perform at each preceding level.

View the Cognitive Domain Hierarchies2

Whereas identification and ciassiflcation within the cognitive domain is generally agreed upon3, classifications of the psychomotor and affective domains demonstrate less consistency, and for those domains, other authors may illustrate variations from the classifications shown here. For a college instructor, it is less impoflant that an objective be absolutely classified than ills for the instructor to be cognizant of hierarchies of levels of thinking and to understand the importance of attending to student development from low to higher levels of operation in all three domains.

The following illustrate classification schemes for the Psychomotor and for the Affective domains.

View the Psychomotor Domain Hierarchies4
View the Affective Domain Hierarchies5


Once again. let me make it clear that it is expected that you will plan well and specifically that which you intend to teach1 that you will convey your specific expectations to your students, and that you will evaluate student learning against that specificity. But there is a danger inherent in such performance-based teaching, and that is, because it is highly objective. It could become over-objective, and over-objectivity can have negative consequences.

The danger is when students are treated as objects, when the relationship between instructor and learner is impersonal and counter-productive to real learning. Highly specific and impersonal teaching can discourage serendipity. creativity. and an excitement for real discovery. With performance-based instruction, the source for student motivation is largely extrinsic: instructor expectations, grades, society and peer pressures are examples of extrinsic, sources. To be an effective college instructor, your challenge Is to use performance-based criteria, but simuftaneously with a teaching style that encourages the development of intrinsic sources of student motivation. and that allows for, that provides for, and that encourages, learning beyond what might be considered as immediately measurable and that is beyond your minimal expectations.
 Exercise 2
 Exercise 3

  1  In teaching for mastery learning of concept, the performance level expectation is 100 percent In reality, when working with a group of students, rather than with one student, the performance level will more likely be between 85 and 95 percent. This 5 - 15 percent difference allows for human errors that can occur reading, writing and oral communication.

 2 Cognitive domain hierarchies adapted from Benjamin S. Bloom, ed. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook I: Cognitive Domain, New York: Longman, 1984.

 3 Rather than an orderly progression from simple to complex mental operations as illustrated in this resource guide, youshould know that some lnstructional researchers prefer an identification of a hierarchy of cognitive abilities that range from simple information storage and retrieval, through a higher level of discrimination and concept learning, and to the highest cognitive ability to recognize and to solve problems, as organized by Robert M. GagnE, Leslie Briggs. and Walter Wager, Principles of Instructional Design, 3d ed., New York: Holt. Rinehart and Winston. 1988.

 4 Psychomotor domain hierarchies adapted from A. J. Harrow, Taxonomy of the Psychomotor Domain, New York: Langman, 1977.

 5 Affective domain hierarchies adapted from David R. Krathwohl, et al. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook II: Affective Domain, New York: David McKay, 1964.