Writing Measurable Learning Objectives

When you begin creating a course, you want to design with the end in mind. The best way to approach this is to start by writing measurable, learning objectives. Effective learning objectives use action verbs to describe what you want your students to be able to do by the end of the course or unit. Aligning assessments with course expectations is much easier when you have written measurable objectives from the beginning.

Bloom's Taxonomy's 6 Levels of Learning

Bloom’s Taxonomy’s 6 Levels of Learning. Click for higher resolution.

  1. Identify the noun, or thing you want students to learn.
    • Example: seven steps of the research process
  2. Identify the level of knowledge you want. In Bloom’s Taxonomy, there are six levels of learning. It’s important to choose the appropriate level of learning, because this directly influences the type of assessment you choose to measure your students’ learning.
    • Example: to know the seven steps of the research process (comprehension level)
  3. Select a verb that is observable to describe the behavior at the appropriate level of learning. A tool we use for choosing appropriate verbs corresponding to selected levels is the RadioJames Objectives Builder.
    • Example: Describe these steps
  4. Add additional criteria to indicate how or when the outcome will be observable to add context for the student.
    • Describe the seven steps of the research process when writing a paper.

Here are some examples of learning objectives we’ve seen and how we revised them:

Course level outcome examples

  • Original version: Understand the American criminal justice system.
  • Revised version: Describe the history of the American criminal justice system.

Understand is not a measurable verb, however the intent of the instructor was to have the students be able to describe, which is measurable.

  • Original version: Describe and create a social media plan for your organization.
  • Revised version: Create a social media plan for your organization.

Describe and create are two different levels of learning, and it’s strongly suggested that you avoid having more than one action verb. Create is a higher level of learning than describe, therefore it can be assumed that you will be able to describe the process prior to applying it.

Unit level examples

  • Original version: Understand elements of editing.
  • Revised version: Identify elements of editing, including composition, setting and lighting.

Understand is not a measurable verb, and it was too broad for a unit level objective. Therefore, we narrowed the focus.

  • Original version: Complete the quiz.
  • Revised version: None

Complete the quiz is an action item for the student, not a learning objective. If your assessment is being used to meet your objective, then you will want to write a measurable objective that describes the content of the assessment.

For a course to meet the Quality Matters standards, it must have learning objectives that are measurable and the assessments must align with the learning objectives. For example, if your learning objective has the action verb “identify”, then you do not want to have an assessment that is above that level of learning, such as analyzing the topic. On the other hand, if you have an application level verb, such as “design”, then you do not want to assess the learning objective with only a multiple choice, knowledge level quiz. Remember, when creating assessments, look at the action verb being used for your learning objective and the level of learning to apply.

Co-written with fellow Quality Matters expert, Steven Crawford. Bloom’s image created by Alyssa Robinson.


  1. says

    This is a sensible approach to the design of learning objectives. However, the following statement sounded alarms: ‘In Bloom’s Taxonomy, there are six levels of learning. It’s important to choose the appropriate level of learning, because this directly influences the type of assessment you choose to measure your students’ learning.”

    This is exactly what’s wrong with Bloom’s taxonomy. Recommend investigating the SOLO taxonomy – far preferable for designing learning outcomes (and pretty much everything else.)

    SOLO takes account of the fact that every level of understanding is underpinned by knowledge – this means you’re not having to limit your self to an “appropriate level of learning” and your assessment can be designed to help them make progress through the levels of understanding.


    • says

      The SOLO taxonomy is certainly an interesting model; however, I feel that it is more geared towards a constructivist classroom. We prefer to use Bloom’s taxonomy for several reasons when designing our online courses: 1) the Quality Matter’s Rubric is the core of our online course design principles and the rubric focuses on measurable learning objectives, 2) very few faculty here are constructivist educators, 3) online education requires a tremendous amount of planning and design and therefore makes a constructivst model difficult to effectively implement, especially for large enrollment courses.

      Personally, I like the idea of building knowledge comprehension in a survey course and then in advanced courses having the student apply, analyze, and evaluate using that foundational knowledge.

  2. diana kornbrot says

    In my view Bloom’s levels have zero support from psychology of thinking, learning or cognition or cognitive science or learning theory.

    They are particularly PERNICIOUS because they devalue knowledge and practice

    The so called ‘levels’ are simply different, PARALLEL features of expertise about a topic

    The literature on EXPERTISE is relevant to learning objectives, Bloom is a red herring, For expertise see, e.g. Chase, Simonn, Chi,& particulalrly ERicsson and references therein

    Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100(3), 363-406.
    Ericsson, K. A. (2009). Development of professional expertise: Toward measurement of expert performance and design of optimal learning environments: Cambridge University Press.
    Anders Ericsson, K. (2008). Deliberate Practice and Acquisition of Expert Performance: A General Overview. Academic Emergency Medicine, 15(11), 988-994. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1553-2712.2008.00227.x

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