Leading an Effective Intern Prep Course (IPC)

Developing Learning Objectives

“If you don’t know where you are going, you might not get there.” - Yogi Berra

Key Learning Points

  1. Learning objectives provide the instructional roadmap toward achieving learning goals.
  2. Learning objectives should emphasize the highest priority content and sessions should be structured around achieving these objectives.
  3. Learning objectives should be SMART and should articulate the audience, desired behavior, conditions under which behavior is expected and the degree of competency expected.
Abstract of many dull unsharpened pencils contrasted with one perfectly sharpened pencil

1. Overview

Developing high-quality learning objectives is necessary for an effective teaching session. Learning objectives guide the teaching and learning processes, provide learners with an understanding of expectations and facilitate appropriate assessment activities.

Learning outcomes can be differentiated from learning goals:

  • Learning goals are larger aims of your instruction. For example, a learning goal for your session might be that students become more comfortable managing acute pain. 
  • Learning objectives articulate the necessary tasks that must be accomplished to achieve the learning goals.
    For example, a learning objective applied to achieving the previously stated goal could be to “Calculate dose conversions among intravenous formulations of morphine, hydromorphone and fentanyl when presented a case of a patient with acute pain.”

Learning goals and objectives should emphasize only the most high-yield content and should guide all instructional activities. For example, to achieve an objective that students demonstrate an ability to conduct a code status discussion, students must be provided the opportunity to practice or role-play this skill.

2. Guiding Principles

See the big pictureWhen developing learning objectives, consider the following questions:

  1. Who is the target audience and what is known about their previous knowledge?
  2. How much time do I have to help students achieve these objectives?
  3. What are the expectations of students in this venue?
  4. What level of mastery do I want students to achieve?
  5. How will students demonstrate mastery and what is an acceptable level of performance?

Learning objectives should be SMART:

Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound


And, should include the following components:

  • Audience (e.g. students)
  • Behavior (e.g. identify, demonstrate)
  • Condition (under what circumstances)
  • Degree (level of competency expected)

Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain can assist in developing learning objectives targeted toward an attainable level of mastery. The following table provides some example action verbs to help you describe what learners will be doing as a result of your instruction.

Taxonomies of the Cognitive Domain

Cognitive Level


Action Verbs

Remembering Recalling from memory. identify, list, recall, define, repeat, recognize, name, quote, reproduce, recite
Understanding Constructing meaning from material. explain, discuss, describe, infer, interpret, conclude, restate, translate, express
Applying Performing or using learned material to conduct a procedure. apply, employ, demonstrate, show, practice, exhibit, use, complete, produce
Analyzing Determine relationships among concepts and materials. compare, contrast, differentiate, classify, connect, prioritize, correlate
Evaluating Make judgments and critiques of material. judge, evaluate, assess, appraise, criticize, defend, rank, argue
Creating Put material together to form a new, coherent whole.
invent, develop, propose, construct, design, formulate

3. Practice

Improve the following learning objective:

4. Apply

You will write 3-5 SMART learning objectives for your teaching session, and send to your mentor for feedback. 

See RAE announcements for details.

5. Wrap Up

Writing learning objectives helps you as an educator focus on what is most important for learners to master.

  • Resist the temptation to bypass writing learning objectives.
  • Keep learning objectives in the forefront as your teaching session.
  • Align your instructional strategies with the verbs used in your objectives to facilitate appropriate assessment.

Other Resources

Effective use of performance objectives for learning and assessment. University of New Mexico School of Medicine, Teacher and Educational Development.  (2005).

Principles of Writing Learning Objectives. Adapted from Preparing Instructional Objectives, Robert F. Mager.


Anderson, L. W. and Krathwohl, D. R., et al (Eds..) (2001) A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. Allyn & Bacon. Boston, MA: Pearson Education Group.

Bloom, B.S. and Krathwohl, D. R. (1956) Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals, by a committee of college and university examiners. Handbook I: Cognitive Domain. NY, NY: Longmans, Green.

Lang, J.M.  (2008).  On Course:  A Week-by-Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Schuh, J.H., Biddix, J.P., Dean, L.A., and Kinzie, J.  (2016).  Assessment in Student Affairs (2nd ed.).  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Suskie, L.  (2009).  Assessing Student Learning.  San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Bass.

View Mentors Guide for this topic