Content Design: An Overview

A learning objective is a statement that identifies knowledge, skills, or values that will improve participants' practice. They identify what a learner should know, be able to do, or value. Learning objectives are behavioral and describe how the participant can achieve a specific objective; i.e. they are learner-centered statements. As such they are a crucial early step in identifying the results you intend to achieve with any education effort. Effective learning objectives will:

  • be learner-oriented
  • focus on cognitive processes
  • use action verbs
  • be measurable where possible
  • will specify a behavior, condition, and a criterion where possible

For example:

After completion of this unit you will be able to write a learning objective (behavior) that is action-oriented and focused on the learner’s cognitive processes (conditions) and can be measured by an appropriate assessment (criterion)

Objectives should focus on desired behaviors. Although knowledge acquisition is a necessary precursor to practice, objectives should, when possible, focus on procedural application of knowledge (competence), implementation (performance), or measures of patient outcomes. Some additional examples:

Competence-oriented objective: Differentiate (behavior) the clinical presentations of polymyositis and dermatomyotisis in yy% of patients with interstitial lung disease

Performance-oriented objective: Diagnose arrhythmias (behavior) in vulnerable population groups based on patient/family history, physical exam, and electrocardiogram (conditions) in a minimum of xx% of cases (criterion).

Additional Resources:


  1. Allen, Mary J. Assessing Academic Programs in Higher Education. Bolton MA: Anker Publishing Company, Inc. 2004
  2. Mager, R.F. Preparing instructional objectives: A critical tool in the development of effective instruction. Atlanta, GA: Center for Effective Performance. 1997
  3. Wiggins, Grant, & McTigue, Jay. Understanding by Design. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc. 2005