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Writing Learning Objectives

Learning Outcomes

What are Learning Objectives?

A learning objective answers the question: what will students know or be able to do at the end of this lesson, block, or program. The learning objective informs what you will teach.

According to LCME, we must identify the specific, observable, and measurable objectives for each specific component of the medical program. That would include a lesson, course, clerkship, rotation, etc. (Anderson et al., 2001; McClain, 2016)

"You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there."

-Yogi Berra

Why Objectives?

Why write learning objectives? If I know my content, isn’t that enough?

Well written learning objectives help instructors:

  • Organize the course around specific core concepts.
  • Optimize teaching time by focusing on core concepts and avoiding less relevant material.
  • Improve assessment by aligning testing with key objectives.

Well written learning objectives help students:

  • Understand what is important in the lesson.
  • Focus their study efforts on key concepts.
  • Self-assess how they are doing and how they can be successful.

Objective Alignment

Inverted pyramid

LCME requires medical schools to map program objectives to their Educational Program Objectives (EPOs). Likewise, course objectives need to be in alignment with educational program objectives, and session objectives need to align with course objectives. Finally, assessments must align to course and/or session objectives. 

How to Write Learning Objectives

Begin with an end in mind

Ask yourself what students should know or be able to do by the end of your lesson. You may want to review the UCR Educational Program Objectives (EPOs). The competencies may be too broad for your specific session objective, but you may be able to borrow some of the language. 

A learning objective begins with a stem like this: "By the end of this lesson, students will be able to..." 

The stem is followed by an active verb. If you use Bloom’s Taxonomy you can find action verbs that directly relate to the level of learning desired. As a learner advances through the program, the level of the learning objectives should move up the Bloom’s scale.  

Once you have a draft of your learning objective, ask yourself if it meets the three main criteria.

  • Is it specific?
  • Is it observable?
  • Is it measurable?

Tips on Writing Learning Objectives

  • Use active verbs. One source for strong active verbs is Bloom’s Taxonomy. A list of Bloom’s active verbs is available to download.
  • Keep to three to five or ten or twelve. Most lessons can support only 3-5 learning objectives and most courses or clerkships can only support 10-12. Avoid a laundry list of objectives and drill down to the most important concepts.
  • Focus on students. The learning objective should focus on student performance, not instructor performance.
  • Attach assessment. Every learning objective should have a formal or informal assessment associated with it. What will you accept as evidence that students have achieved the objective?

Verbs to Avoid

Watch out for verbs that reflect concepts which can’t be measured. Here are a few to avoid.

  • Understand (or Demonstrate Understanding of)
  • Appreciate
  • Know
  • Familiarize
  • Learn
  • Become aware of

Examples of Learning Objectives

Good Example

"Apply principles of epidemiological sciences to the identification of health problems, risk factors, treatment strategies, resources, and disease prevention/health promotion efforts for patients and populations."

Why is this a good example?

Alignment: EPO domain #2 – Knowledge of Practice 
Specific: “Apply principles” is a discrete and concrete action
Observable: Student can demonstrate their ability to apply the principles by:

  • Providing a solution to a case study or test question.
  • Demonstrating application of the principles in a simulated setting.
  • Illustrating application of the principles either in writing or orally.

Measurable: An instructor can determine the level of competency the student must demonstrate.

Poor Example

Students will grasp the significance of the principles of social-behavioral sciences to provision of patient care, including assessment of the impact of psychosocial and cultural influences on health, disease, care-seeking, care compliance, and barriers to and attitudes towards care.

Why is this a poor example?

Alignment: No clear alignment to competencies.
Specific: “Grasp the significance” is vague.
Observable: It is not possible to observe whether or not someone has “grasped” significance.
Measurable: The action is so vague, it is impossible to measure.
Better verbs to describe this objective would include apply, illustrate, predict, interpret.


  • Anderson, L. W., Krathwohl, D. R., Airasian, P. W., Cruikshank, K. A., Mayer, R. E., Pintrich, P. R., … Wittrock, M. C. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing:  A revision of bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives, complete edition (1st ed.). Pearson.
  • Englander, R., Cameron, T., Ballard, A. J., Dodge, J., Bull, J., & Aschenbrener, C. A. (2013). Toward a Common Taxonomy of Competency Domains for the Health Professions and Competencies for Physicians: Academic Medicine, 88(8), 1088–1094.
  • Learning Objectives for Medical Student Education Report. (1998).  https://doi.org/10.1097/ACM.0b013e31829a3b2b  Learning Objectives for Medical Student Education Report. Retrieved from AAMC website
  • McClain, B. (2016). The Learning Objective: Identifying appropriate metrics for improving medical education. Data & Donuts.

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