Construct a learning objective

A well-aligned course starts with good learning objectives. This page explains the seven elements of a good learning objective and shows a step-by-step approach to improving your learning objectives.

Constructive alignment

Constructive alignment is at the heart of solid course design (Biggs, 1996; Cohen, 1987).

The first step in designing a well-aligned course is to formulate good learning objectives. These form the cornerstone on which you make decisions for what to include/exclude in your course. They clarify what your students should have learned at the end of your course; what and how to assess; and which teaching and learning methods should be used.

Key conditions of well-formulated learning objectives

Although you have a very strong sense of what a student should learn, it is important to articulate this vision. To make sure that a learning objective is clear, concise and valid, a few steps are key. First, a learning objective should be student-centred. To do this, you have to address the students directly:

“By the end of the course, you should be able to...”

Second, we need to determine the tasks that the students should be able to do and identify cognitive level at which the student should perform that task. Many activities consist of a synthesis of various complex skills.

Complex skills in learning objectives

Writing a paper may involve an intricate combination of various skills, such as identifying arguments, structuring paragraphs, analysing existing text, etc.

Solving a mathematical equation may involve defining the type of problem, identifying and applying the correct mathematical rules, etc.


Third, a clear objective identifies the observable behaviour and using an action verb. Understand, Know, and Learn are non-observable and non-measurable. Ask yourself, once the students understand/know/ have learned something, what can they do with it?

Understand X” could be transformed into “Describe X

Fourth, the desired behaviour relates to a specified context. This refers to the context in which the student performs the action verb.

Complex skills in learning objectives

[Justify] the selection of a sensor…

[Develop] a measurement instrument…


Fifth, a well-constructed learning objective specifies the minimum level of achievement required; a so-called criterion, which isn’t always necessary. For instance: “Students are able to analyse at least two different discrete time systems.”

Complex skills in learning objectives

[Analyse] at least two different discrete time systems.


Sixth, ideally a learning objective indicates the circumstances in which students should be able to demonstrate the objective: the condition.

Complex skills in learning objectives

…using Python.

…under lab conditions.


Last, the learning objective is clear and indisputable. The learning object: “the student is able to draw an inspiring concept” is problematic, since the term ‘inspiring’ is vague. An alternative could be: “the student is able to identify weaknesses and strengths of her concept”.

These principles lead to the following list of conditions for well-formulated learning objectives

Conditions of well-formulated learning objectives

The learning objective is student centred

It is phrased in terms of action verbs

The desired behaviour relates to specified content

The learning objective specifies a criterion/context

It Indicates the condition in which students perform the task.


Here are some examples of well-formulated learning objectives from courses taught at Delft University of Technology

Examples of well-formulated learning objectives

By the end of this course, you should be able to:
LO1: Develop a controller for a simulated process, using MATLAB/Simulink software.
LO2: Assess the performance of signal processing and feedback algorithms for their influence on measurement noise and accuracy.
LO3: Derive the current distribution and radiated fields of linear dipoles.



It is recommended to number them (LO1, LO2 etc.) to make it easier to refer back to them, especially during discussions with your teaching team, and also while writing your UTQ PoCs.

How to identify and improve learning objectives

Now we will improve a number of learning objectives step-by-step, based on the seven key conditions described above.

Old learning objectives

  • The student will be able to discuss theories from Guilford, Osborn/Parnes and Amabile, and in relation to each other.
  • The student will be able to explain how Wallas + Gestalt  theories remain important inspiration for theory and practice of creativity
  • The student will be able to discuss theories behind the methods used in DC (=the practical course that runs simultaneously).

When looking at these learning objectives, we can make the following observations:

  • They look like exam questions (For example, Discuss the theories from Guilford, Osborn/Parnes and Amabile, and in relation to each other).
  • They repeat the same phrase “The student will be able to”, which is poor writing style.
  • The student is not addressed directly, which makes them teacher-centred instead of student-centred.
  • By stating that the student will be able to do these things, the lecturer is guaranteeing the students that they will have this knowledge/skills, and that it is the lecturer’s responsibility to make sure they all accomplish this.
  • Too much detail is included, which takes away flexibility from what the lecturer has to cover in the exam.

Step 1: Choose the content

Decide what exactly the students should know that they will learn in your course. Write down a few notes for yourself. Take the following into account:

  • The purpose of the course
  • What the faculty needs
  • What the students will do in the real world of work
  • Accreditation requirements (if relevant)
  • How the course connects with other courses/the study programme

Step 2: Describe your course in one sentence

The students will learn the foundation of the theory of creativity and how to talk about how the theories connect, and how to apply them to solve problems in teams.

Step 3: Identify the action verbs

What are the actions (verbs) in the description from step 2?

  • Learn
  • Talk (about)
  • Apply

Step 4: Formulate the learning objectives

How can we formulate the learning objectives using the action verbs, while still capturing the essence of the course? Choose action verbs from Bloom’s Taxonomy that are observable and measurable. You should be able to see the student performing the task to be able to grade it.

By the end of this course, you should be able to:
LO1: Explain the core elements of the foundational theory of creativity.
LO2: Debate the relationships between the theories of creativity.
LO3: Connect the theory of creativity to a given technique for creative problem solving within team.


  • Cohen, S.A. (1987). 'Instructional alignment: Searching for a magic bullet', Educational Researcher, 16(8), 16--20.
  • Biggs, J. (1996). Enhancing teaching through constructive alignment. Higher education, 32(3), 347-364.