The Three-Part Learning Objective
Every effective learning objective has three main parts: the behavior, the condition, and the criterion. The behavior describes what the learner will be doing. It can be something as simple as matching a word with its definition, or it may be something more challenging such as creating a model. But it must be some form of an observable action verb. You want to avoid words such as “know”, “understand”, or “comprehend”. These actions are unobservable and therefore more difficult to measure mastery. You will also want to have only one verb when writing the behavior portion of your learning objective. Having multiple verbs in an objective can cause confusion when it comes to student mastery. Instead, either write them as two separate objectives, or choose the verb that is at the learning level of your students.
The second component an effective learning objective must contain is the condition. The condition gives specific and clear guidance to the student as to what they can expect when completing the behavior that is stated. For example, it may include specific information the learner will use, such as a specific formula, or it may list the tools or references the student will need in order to complete the behavior such as a dictionary, diagram, or T-chart. Don’t confuse this with the instructional activity or event that is occurring before the learning behavior. For example, “after finishing the book” or “after reading the chapter” is not considered a condition. These phrases do not list the tools or references that will be provided for the actual behavior. Instead they describe what is leading up to the behavior.
The final part of an effective learning objective is the criterion. This is the part of the learning objective that specifically tells the learner what they must do to show mastery of the objective. This can be done in one of three ways: by telling the degree of accuracy the behavior must be performed, by giving a quantity of correct responses that must be given, or by giving a time limit in which the behavior must be completed. Notice the list did not include a grade specific criterion. Grades are not the most effective way to give a student feedback; therefore they should not be used in a learning objective. There may be times when you feel a learning objective needs more than one criterion and that is perfectly acceptable. You may add as many as needed to clarify for students what is expected of them to show mastery.