What is a Learning Objective really?


July 18, 2013 by dragonflytraining

Author: @Garnett_S

Although every teacher would be able to offer a definition of this term the frustrating reality is that it is unlikely that there would be universal agreement amongst the profession – how do I know this?

I have delivered CPD in one form or another to over 10,000 colleagues over the last 10 years for Dragonfly Training predominantly – these range from small workshops, whole staff Inset for audiences up to 200 to Educational Trade Fairs in the Middle East.

Myself delivering courses for Dragonfly Training, in association with ISHRAQ Foundation in Amman, Jordan.

Myself delivering courses for Dragonfly Training, in association with ISHRAQ Foundation in Amman, Jordan.


Whenever my training covers the issue of the Learning Objective I can guarantee that there is definitely a lack of a common consensus as to what it actually is. The good news is that there is a clear definition and it is certainly not our teachers who are to blame.

Let me tell you why…

Consider this list:



Learning Intention

Desired Learning Outcome

Walt Wilf TIB OLI

Objectives and Outcomes

Key Questions

Big Question

Learning Goals

What are the similarities and differences between this list? Who created them? Why isn’t there one standard approach?

If there is one thing in education that has been over intellectualised and over complicated in my opinion it’s the term we use to identify what we want our pupils to learn during a lesson.

So out of all the terms we can use we should stick to just one: Learning Objective

A definition would look something like this:

A learning objective describes something a pupil is able to do following a lesson – in other words a verb.

E.g. By the end of this lesson you should be able to:

List the …. in  the….. ( fill in the gaps for your context)


Outline the ….of the …..


Explain why the…..

I was delighted to see that Shirley Clarke ( described as the UKs foremost exponent of Formative Assessment) also endorsing the phrase Learning Objective. Interestingly she has also condemned the phrases WALT and WILF (of which her name has been inextricably linked to).

(Full article http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6003863)

So if your intention is to switch phrases to focus on verbs but need more examples then I would suggest going back to 1956 for inspiration!

A really good place to look for additional verbs to act as Learning Objectives can be found within a really accessible diagram utilising the principles of Bloom’s Taxonomy.


Whilst there is a debate as to the validity of the hierarchy, many teachers will recognise the transferability to the National Curriculum level descriptors for most subjects e.g. Level 3/4 broadly focuses on knowledge, Level 5/6 broadly focuses on explanation and to Level 7/8 broadly focuses on Evaluation.

So to avoid missing the target in lessons…

Start thinking in terms of verbs and you will be focusing on learning, not tasks or content. Start thinking in terms of verbs and you will be able to measure the extent of learning during lessons as well as at the end (finally finding a way to meaningfully check progress every 20 minutes – not that Ofsted have ever asked for this but many a school SLT insist on seeing it)

I still remember fondly at least three occasions where I have been applauded whilst in the middle of a CPD session when I have offered on the one hand a definition of a Learning Objective and then have on the other hand, condemned the plethora of these unhelpful phrases as an exercise in over-intellectualising and over-complicating something that should be fairly straightforward.

I hope the blogshere reverberates to the sound of more hands clapping!

One thought on “What is a Learning Objective really?

  1. David Didau says:

    As long as there is commonality within an institution it hardly matters what individual schools decide to refer to LOs as.

    Interestingly, I moved school last year and was forced to make the uncomfortable tradition between objectives and outcomes. Initially I resisted it but actually came to find the distinction very helpful.

    Dividing learning outcomes with the phrase ‘so that’ was useful for me and for the students. To build on your ideas above, we could say VERB so that NOUN.

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