As celebrated inspirational speaker, coach, and author Ben Gay III once said:

“No amount of travel on the wrong road will bring you to the right destination.”

The same can be said about instructional design and the development of eLearning content.

Learning objectives are to instructional designers is the same as a map is to a traveler. With the proper learning objectives in place, designing a relevant, engaging and useful course becomes a lot easier.

On the other hand, if you aren’t clear about the objectives for which you are designing the course, no amount of hard work will lead to the design and development of the right content… which means your students will be going down the wrong road too.

Let’s examine how to set good learning objectives, which will help ensure that course designers and students alike are on the path to success.

Thoughts Behind Setting Learning Objectives

Educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom, and subsequently his other colleagues (notably Anderson & Krathwohl), highlighted three critical learning elements that ensure successful learning:

  • Skills
  • Knowledge
  • Attitude

Their thinking behind highlighting these categories is this: to make any type of learning meaningful – and thereby successfully accomplish the objectives for which that learning is being promoted – the above three basic components must be addressed.

By using “actionable” verbiage, instructional designers create a body of content around these three concepts. Like a ladder or a pyramid, this “content scaffold” builds upon prior learning that has already been delivered in past classes and experiences.

The use of these three basic categories is also what underpins Bloom’s Taxonomy – an established standard for categorizing behavioral traits and intellectual skills that are key for successful learning. Instructional designers can leverage Bloom’s Taxonomy to produce good learning objectives.

Building Blocks For Good Learning Objectives

Before instructional designers start crafting learning objectives, it is important to understand that the final goal is to phrase these objectives using measurable and observable verbs. These will form the building blocks upon which everything else will grow.

For example, when designing a course to teach employees how to operate a certain piece of equipment safely, it’s often tempting to outline course objectives in a manner like…

The objectives of this course are to:

  • help factory staff learn key operating procedures
  • ensure staff understand the complexities of the equipment
  • make employees appreciate the importance of taking safety precautions

When reading these objectives, you can certainly get a clear idea of what the course is all about. However, while these are useful for outlining the purpose of a course, these examples are unfortunately highly subjective and non-measurable in nature. These are not the verbs that good learning objectives are made of.

To do this well, instead think in objective and measurable terms. It is actionable verbs that you are looking for, which may be something like…

The objectives of this course are to:

  • ensure staff are able to explain the complexities of the equipment once the course is completed
  • ensure employees can display understanding of safety precautions when operating the equipment
  • ensure factory staff can demonstrate key operating procedures


By formulating learning objectives using actionable verbs with measurable outcomes, instructional designers will not only signal to students the knowledge, skills and behavior they are expected to learn from the course, but these learning objectives will serve as a road map for content designers to create relevant, meaningful content.


Check out our 4-step process to create actionable learning objectives for any course!

IMAGE: “Overcoming Obstacles” by the U.S. Army via Flickr Creative Commons License