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Introduction to Learning Objectives (prepared by Randall Osborne, Mark Mitchell, and Janina Jolley) for


Mitchell, M. L. & Jolley, J. M. (2013). Research design explained. (8th ed.).  Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Cengage.






Although  students often believe that they  “know the material,” professors often disagree. According to Osborne (2001), one problem is that many students believe that   “knowing the material” means memorizing facts, whereas most faculty expect that “knowing the material” means more than rote memorization.

To help you understand and meet professor expectations, we have constructed objectives based on Bloom’s (1956) taxonomy of cognitive objectives. These objectives should help you by telling you  (a) which concepts are most important and (b) the depth at which students need to understand those concepts.

To illustrate, consider the following objective: “Describe the key elements of science.” This objective tells you to focus on identifying and understanding the key elements of science.  Note that the objective does not ask you to provide examples of the elements, critique the elements, or to rank the relative importance of each element.  In other words, the wording of the objective tells you how sophisticated your understanding of the concept needs to be. To get a better idea of how objectives can help you know what you should learn, study the box below.


Bloom’s Taxonomy of Cognitive Objectives


1.) Knowledge – a recitation of specific facts. Signaled by words such as  define, name, recognize, report, repeat, state, recall, label, and list.

2.) Comprehensionan expressed understanding of the information. Signaled by words such as describe, explain, and discuss.

3.) Applicationan ability to apply information to real world problems and/or issues. Signaled by words such as outline, provide, practice, solve, illustrate, use, construct, calculate, compute, determine, demonstrate, show, operate, try, and manipulate.

4.) Analysisinvolves breaking a problem down into subparts and recognizing the connections between those subparts.  During this process, meaningless pieces of information are identified and discarded. Signaled by words such as analyze, defend, examine, compare, contrast, distinguish, revise, discriminate, dissect, experiment, subdivide, classify, investigate, and question.

5.) Synthesisan ability to reassemble the remaining subparts (those that were not discarded as meaningless) into a more meaningful whole. Signaled by words such as produce, propose, compose, generate, devise, combine, create, forecast, design, invent, and formulate.

6.) Evaluation  - the proposed solution is implemented (at least at the logic level) and an attempt is made to assess the degree to which that solution resolves the problem. Signaled by words such as evaluate, rate, judge, prioritize, decide, assess, reject, recommend, verify, accept, appraise, criticize, and justify.


When you use the objectives prepared for Research Design Explained, you should be sure that you know what level of understanding each objective requires. To help you know what level of understanding the objective requires, we have placed superscripted numbers (e.g., 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6) next to the key verb of each objective. Thus, an objective that contains “define1” requires a lower level of understanding than an objective that contains “examine4.”If, after looking at the key verb, still aren't sure about what level of understanding is required, note that the superscript number attached to each objective refers to the six types of objectives listed in the box above. Specifically,

1 – refers to a knowledge objective,

2 – refers to a comprehension objective,

3 – refers to an application objective,

4 – refers to an analysis objective,

5 – refers to a synthesis objective, and

6 – refers to an evaluation objective.



Once you know the objective’s requirements, write out your answer to each objective. Realize that higher-level objectives  (one with a superscript of 3 or above) often build upon lower level objectives that came before it. For example, an objective that requires you to apply information to the solution of a problem (application level) also requires you (a) to access that information (knowledge level) and (b) to understand that information (comprehension level).

If you come to a lower-level objective (one with a 1 or 2 superscript) that you cannot answer, go back and study the relevant sections in your text. If you come to a higher-level objective (one with a superscript of 3 or above) that you cannot answer, re-examine your answers to the lower-level objectives that come before the objective you are having trouble answering.  You may find that your answers to those lower-level objectives are useful for helping you answer the higher-level objective. If they are not, your answer to the lower-level objective may be incomplete or inaccurate.


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