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Part 1 - Objectives in the educational process

1.1 The role of learning objectives
1.2 The sources of learning objectives
1.3 Processes for defining learning objectives
1.4 Using objectives in teaching
1.5 Difficulties to be overcome in defining and using objectives

 

1.1 The role of learning objectives

Teachers vary in the degree of precision with which they see the objectives they are pursuing in their teaching work. To make these objectives more explicit and to define them more clearly demands additional work from each teacher, an effort which ought to be rewarded by improved results. However, the teacher cannot hope for satisfactory results if the objectives sought are not related to the other aspects of instruction.

To have a precise grasp of the role of learning objectives necessarily implies an insight into the possible relationship between the objectives and the other components of instruction.

  1. To improve communication) teacher-student
teacher-teacher
Role of objectives 2. To be used in choosing learning activities)  
  3. To facilitate the choice of teaching material)  
  4. To specify the purpose of evaluation)  

We shall deal in detail with each of these points.

1.1.1 Objectives improve communication between the teacher and the students and between the teachers of a given syllabus

The student must know precisely what is expected of him. He will thus devote his time to activities which will enable him to attain the course objectives. He will be in a better position to distinguish what is important from what is less important from among the learning tasks covered by the course. He will thus avoid dwelling on details of the subject-matter which he considers to be less relevant. He will not have to guess from the behaviour of his teacher what the latter considers important and what may be expected to be the subject-matter of the evaluation.

The student must know precisely what is expected of him

A teacher who has specified his objectives may discuss the selection of them with his colleagues. The teachers engaged on teaching a particular course may consult each other in order to pursue joint objectives.

When the objectives of the various courses of a curriculum have been precisely formulated it is possible to verify whether the curriculum respects learning sequences, in other words whether the items of learning which are the purpose of the course objectives are presented in an orderly progression. It is also easier to avoid duplication or omissions in what is to be learned. This operation calls for real teamwork so as to ensure that the syllabus is not merely a juxtaposition of courses but rather an organized whole designed to bring about the integrated and optimal development of abilities. Every school of librarianship, archives administration or information science would benefit from regularly going through such a procedure.

Sequences must be respected

1.1.2 Objectives help in the choice of instructional and learning activities

When the teacher chooses one or more instructional or learning activities he must, in principle, make allowance for a number of parameters, in particular his personal skills, the discipline being taught, available financial resources, the infrastructure at the disposal of teachers, the educational standard of the students, their number and their previous training. The learning objectives themselves are also an important parameter. Once the objectives have been specified it might be expected that the teacher will try to pair up a pedagogical method and a learning objective, or a set of objectives, so as to increase the chances of attaining that objective or set of objectives.

Objectives help in the choice of instructional and learning activities

No instructional method is inherently correct or better than others. There is no point in wondering whether the lecture, the seminar or the case study are intrinsically valid methods. They are all valid pedagogical means of attaining certain objectives, subject to other parameters. For example, the lecture may be the means chosen for outlining a critical point of view, for presenting a synthesis of different fields of knowledge or for providing information which is not yet available in written or audio-visual form. The case study method, however, would be more appropriate for developing judgement or an ability to analyse problems and find solutions that are compatible with the various factors involved. Moreover, an in-service course provides a means of learning the skills required for the exercise of a profession such as those related to the ability to respond to the information needs of a client.

1.1.3 Objectives facilitate the choice of educational material

Once the objectives have been written, the teacher must ask himself what educational material he will use in order to attain them more effectively. The objectives serve as criteria for the choice of teaching aids: collections of texts, volumes, films and others. He must, as far as possible, seek to ensure that the teaching aids are appropriate to the objectives set.

Objectives facilitate the choice of educational material

Certain teachers consider that the objective of a course is to read, either in its entirety or in part, a volume covering the course content. However, 'to read the course book from cover to cover' is not an objective. The book is a teaching aid (among others) which may, in some cases, provide a means of attaining the learning objectives of the course. Thus the reading of a text setting out the rules for indexing a document cannot in itself be considered as an objective related to mastery of the rules concerned or, still less, to the application of those rules to documents. The mere fact that the student reads a text on the rules of indexing does not provide any assurance that he will have a satisfactory knowledge of those rules any more than it guarantees his competence to apply them. A distinction must be made between the objective (the knowledge or application of the rules of indexing) and the use of a particular teaching aid (the reading of a text).

Figure

1.1.4 Objectives provide a means of clarifying the purpose of evaluation

For the students, the most tangible effect of specifying learning objectives is the use made of those objectives to define more clearly what is being evaluated. For example, the ability to carry out minor restoration work on certain types of archive documents should be verified not by a question which merely calls for enumeration of the stages in the procedure to be followed but rather by a demonstration of the skill required.

Objectives provide a means of clarifying the purpose of evaluation

The evaluation of learning must seek to verify whether objectives have been attained, otherwise there is a considerable risk that the students will cease to attach importance to the objectives. However precise and however clear the objectives may be, they will remain a dead letter for the students if the latter do not perceive these objectives as having a connection with the instructional activities and with the evaluation of learning.

Certain evaluation procedures which become possible when objectives are defined will be discussed in the text dealing with the ways in which objectives can be used in teaching.

The formulation of precise objectives gives the teacher greater motivation to acquire the means of attaining those objectives and to evaluate them.

1.2 The sources of learning objectives

A curriculum is designed as a response to training needs. The degree of precision of the objectives is thus related to needs. One may regard the needs as being expressed in the form of a demand by students, parents, employers, and so forth. However, as d'Hainaut (1983) mentions, these demands are not always the expression of a true need, since the perceived need is not always a real one. Needs may also have remained unformulated because the individuals do not have the necessary information or the appropriate tools to become aware of them.

Other elements must be taken into account in formulating learning objectives. Over and above needs, there are teaching models related to philosophies of education, values and models of society. Teaching models influence choices, such as the choice of ways of striking a balance between the needs of the individual and those of society, or the needs of present-day society and those of society in the future, and so forth. Certain teaching models focus primarily on the transmission of knowledge, whereas others offer training aimed at the development of cognitive processes (for example the problem-solving process). These few examples of various possible orientations of teaching models give an idea of the influence of teaching models on the choice of learning objectives.

The more clearly the objectives are specified, the greater account must be taken of certain factors. Consideration must be given to the characteristics of the students such as their prior training, their maturity, and so forth. For example, the thrust of a curriculum in librarianship, archives administration and information science differs depending on whether the curriculum is intended for students approaching the end of their secondary schooling or for students who have already completed two or three years of university study.

Certain constraints such as the timetable (whether the course is intensive or otherwise), the number of students, their way of life (for example, whether the students have to work concurrently with pursuing their studies) also have their importance. These constraints might unfortunately result in the neglect of objectives that ought necessarily to be pursued in favour of objectives of more limited scope. The exercise of clarifying objectives should, however, promote an awareness of the gaps that will arise in the curriculum; the attainment of such awareness is the first stage in the quest for appropriate solutions.

1.3 Processes for defining learning objectives

The processes for defining learning objectives vary widely. The quality of the objectives identified also varies. Thus, a number of teachers might carry out an analysis of the content of their course in order to derive the objectives from it. This is a method that we do not recommend since it carries with it the risk of maintaining the status quo. What takes place is merely that objectives are 'tacked on to' the existing course and objectives other than those which are inspired by the content - such as objectives which have to do with arousing interest in the subject-matter - are overlooked. Furthermore, this approach does not identify the most important objectives and, consequently, the course structure does not provide a means of ensuring that they are attained since the course is organized primarily on the basis of the sequential presentation of the various items making up the course content. How can one progress in a pedagogically sound manner without thinking about the orientation of the course through the choice of objectives?

There is another method with limitations similar to those of the first. It consists in analysing the tests or other means of course evaluation by trying to identify the objectives that lie behind them. In addition to the defects mentioned previously in connection with the analysis of course content, we here come up against an additional difficulty. Account must be taken of the ability that the student must have in order to meet the demands of the evaluation: the level of ability required varies depending on whether the evaluation involves an entirely new situation or whether it is merely a matter of remembering what has been covered in class.

Certain teachers write their objectives by deriving them from a taxonomy (in other words a classification) of objectives. The name most frequently associated with taxonomies in education is probably that of Benjamin S. Bloom. He and the members of his team have devised a division of objectives by 'domain': cognitive, affective and psychomotor. An objective in the cognitive domain might involve giving principal and secondary notations to documents according to the LC (Library of Congress) and Dewey classification tables. An objective in the affective domain might, for example, be associated with the student's adaptation to new technologies and to overcoming the anxiety caused by the change. Lastly, a psychomotor objective might be related to the skill in the proper use of the various keys on the keyboard of a microcomputer.

The three domains of educational objectives

The taxonomies of each of these three domains are based on the following principles: the levels of objectives go from the simplest to the most complex and each level assumes the preceding level. Thus, the cognitive domain comprises the following six levels: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation.

We shall not discuss further the classification proposed by Bloom's team nor shall we summarize other taxonomies. This is a matter which has been adequately dealt with in many other works.

We shall merely add that this procedure, which involves indicating, for a given content, the taxonomic level at which it should be treated, is not the one we have chosen as a means of clarifying objectives. We took this decision because of certain drawbacks in the use of taxonomies. One of them is inherent in the artificial division of learning into three domains. These domains are interrelated but no taxonomy so far devised has succeeded in integrating all three of them satisfactorily.

More serious still, this way of proceeding does not question the relevance of the content: one comes up against the same problems as those raised by the process of defining objectives on the basis of an analysis of course content.

The same problem arises even when one proceeds rather differently by specifying, for each taxonomic level, the objectives to be pursued (for example, the objectives related to knowledge or to comprehension in the cognitive domain).

For this reason we suggest that the use of taxonomies be restricted to the analysis of objectives that have already been written. In this way, taxonomies can be used to classify the objectives produced in terms of the predominance of the behaviour mentioned and one can become aware, where applicable, of certain domains within objectives, or alternatively of certain taxonomic levels, which may have been under- or overrepresented. For example, one may be surprised not to find any objectives corresponding to the domain of attitudes in a vocational curriculum in which the student will be brought into contact with the public. Alternatively, one might realize, in the case of a curriculum for training professional archivists, that there is too high a proportion of objectives at the level of knowledge or of comprehension and that objectives relating to the level of application or evaluation in the cognitive domain are neglected. Annex II gives an example of an analysis grid for cognitive objectives.

The procedure we suggest is as follows: first define the aim or aims of the curriculum bearing in mind the finalities of the educational system or of the teaching establishment; identify the general objectives of the course which fit in with the stated aims of the curriculum; then specify each general objective in terms of the specific objective or objectives which derive from it.

By proceeding in this way from the general to the specific one is sure of obtaining more valid specific objectives, and a closer correlation between these objectives and the orientation which it is intended to give to the syllabus and to the course. The objectives thus obtained may be qualified as terminal since they indicate the major learning achievements anticipated at the end of the course. On the basis of each of these terminal objectives one can undertake the task of defining the intermediate objectives which constitute stages towards the attainment of the terminal objectives.

This process of defining objectives in precise terms may be illustrated graphically by means of the following continuum:

CONTINUUM GOING FROM THE GENERAL TO THE SPECIFIC:

The different concepts used for the continuum are defined in the worksheets in Part II of the document where the reader will also find examples and exercises taking the differentiation between these concepts further and providing an opportunity to write statements related to each of these concepts constituting different levels of objectives. The examples used to represent the various levels of objectives show what we are dealing with here really is a continuum and not a series of selfcontained categories.

However, the clarification of objectives cannot by itself bring about improvements in teaching: it is in its interaction with other components of the educational process that such clarification becomes really beneficial. This is why the clarification of objectives must be seen as one of the stages in course planning.

The general objectives of the course are written using the aims of the curriculum as a starting-point. As we have said above, it should be possible to describe the specific objectives which clarify each of the general objectives as terminal. One can then go on to identify the intermediate objectives which represent the stages whereby the identified terminal objectives are attained. After writing the objectives in this way it may be useful to analyse them with the help of the taxonomies. Subsequently, the teaching activities, and the means of evaluation suited to the objectives which have thus been clarified, are determined. The work done at each of these stages provides an opportunity to question what has been produced by earlier stages and, where appropriate, to make changes. This dynamic aspect of course planning is illustrated by the flowchart which appears on the following page. The flowchart does not, however, represent all the stages in course planning. We have tried, rather, to demonstrate that the various components of the educational act (objectives, teaching activities and means of evaluation) are in a state of constant interaction both at the planning stage and during the process of teaching itself. Publications on course planning, several of which are mentioned in the bibliography, will make this Planning operation easier.

Figure

1.4 Using objectives in teaching

Once the objectives of a course have been specified, a number of possibilities become available: the way in which the objectives are turned to account varies from one teacher to another. As a great deal of work is required in order to exploit the objectives to the full the teacher may thus collaborate with colleagues or proceed by stages. In the latter case he must make a realistic choice among the many possible uses of the objectives bearing in mind the context in which he finds himself and the applications which have the greatest importance for his own teaching.

Several possibilities...

...but one realistic choice

We shall indicate a number of ways of using objectives in teaching by drawing a parallel between an example of teaching in which the objectives are specified and another in which the objectives are not specified. This juxtaposition, which may at times seem to verge on parody, is intended to illustrate the possible links between the specific objectives and various aspects of the educational process, in particular, prior requirements, the pace of learning, independence, the role of the teacher, personalized teaching, the frame of reference of evaluation, the aim of evaluation, the demands relating to learning activities, the objectives evaluated, the re-use of evaluation material and the evaluation of the syllabus. Many of these ways of using the objectives are related to individualized instruction but there are also other ways of putting the objectives to good use. Furthermore, it must be recalled that the mere fact of having specified the objectives of a course does not of itself make the applications mentioned effective: these different applications of the objectives necessitate a certain amount of work.

TEACHING WITH SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES

Prior requirements

The prior requirements for a course may be specified with greater precision. They may be indicated in terms not only of courses but of pre-course concepts, skills or objectives. It is even possible to specify the prior requirements in terms of each of the course objectives.

Prior requirements

The study of prior requirements is particularly important in the case of the first-year course of a given study level. The students, having received varied kinds of preparation, differ widely in this respect. The strengths and the weaknesses of each student may be evaluated in relation to the prior requirements. The starting objective may thus differ from one student to another. Accordingly, no student spends time revising what he knows already. He concentrates on those prior requirements which he personally does not meet.

TEACHING WITHOUT SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES

Prior requirements

The prior requirements are generally expressed in terms of courses. At the start of the session the teacher merely recalls the most important aspects of prior courses before passing on to new material.

Prior requirements

TEACHING WITH SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES

Pace of learning

If the means of learning and, where appropriate, the means of evaluation are made available to the student, he will be able to study at his own pace in order to attain the objectives since he knows what they are. It is thus possible to provide individualized teaching and the student becomes more independent in his learning.

Pace of learning

TEACHING WITHOUT SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES

Pace of learning

The pace of the teacher becomes the pace of all: the teacher is generally guided by his perception of the pace of the most able students or of the average, depending on his approach to teaching. Often the weakest students are those who suffer the most; as they have not yet assimilated the preceding lesson they have little understanding of what is being presented to them.

Pace of learning

TEACHING WITH SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES

Independence

In embarking on the individualization of teaching it must be remembered that not all students are used to having control over their own progress. It is necessary to accustom them gradually to taking on that responsibility: some will be slow to make a start on learning, while others will need to be reassured as to their ability to learn.

Independence

TEACHING WITHOUT SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES

Independence

The pace imposed by the teacher may stimulate the slow student to get down to the task of learning. However, the student may tend to believe that it is always necessary to have a teacher in order to learn.

Independence

TEACHING WITH SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES

Role of the teacher

When objectives are used in individualized teaching the teacher becomes a course planner, a guide and an aid to learning. He is more often in personal contact with the students. Sometimes a teacher or a team plans the course, prepares the material, and the assistants (often called demonstrators or monitors) may act as leaders for the students.

Role of the teacher

TEACHING WITHOUT SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES

Role of the teacher

The teacher is considered as a dispenser of knowledge. The qualities required are thus very different from those of a teacher who is a guide and they may vary depending on the methodology used.

Role of the teacher

TEACHING WITH SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES

Personalized teaching

It is possible to personalize teaching: the students may take part in drawing up the course objectives. The objectives and the learning activities may, either entirely or to some extent, be adapted to each student. This may be thought of as a series of learning contracts concluded between the student and the teacher.

Frame of reference of the evaluation

Because the objectives have been defined, it is possible to make an evaluation to ascertain whether they have been attained. Rather than comparing the student to his class companions, the evaluation determines whether he has attained a particular objective and whether he is suitable to embark on the next stage of learning. For example, success in a driving test is related only to the performance of the individual in relation to predetermined criteria. The frame of reference for interpreting the information is referred to in such a case as a criterion-based frame of reference. Such a frame of reference should be used, for example, when one wishes to place students in relation to their ability to query a computerized data base.

CRITERION-REFERENCED EVALUATION

TEACHING WITHOUT SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES

Personalized teaching

It is more difficult to personalize teaching: what generally happens is that the same course content is given to all, although the student is sometimes allowed to choose from among various learning activities.

Frame of reference of the evaluation

A student is frequently compared to others. The students may thus be classified, selected and differentiated in terms of whether they are strong or weak. In some cases, a particular failure rate per class is determined in advance; thus, a student's chances of succeeding in the course are greater or less depending on the group to which he belongs. The frame of reference used for interpreting the information is thus to be 'normative'. This type of frame of reference should be used if the intention is to rank the students in a particular group on the basis of their skill in applying specific cataloguing rules to a series of documents.

NORMATIVE EVALUATION

TEACHING WITH SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES

Aim of evaluation

Because the objectives have been defined it is possible to make a criterion-referenced interpretation of information in order to assist learning. This is what is known as ongoing evaluation. Such evaluation is itself a learning activity, providing rapid and frequent feedback which indicates to the student whether a particular objective has been attained or not.

If the objective has not been attained, explanations are given or new learning activities are prescribed in order to enable the student to attain it. This type of evaluation, which encourages going back over the ground covered, is designed to enable a larger number of students to attain the objectives.

ONGOING EVALUATION

Demands made in relation to learning

Ongoing evaluation within a criterion-based frame of reference is sometimes related to 'mastery learning', in other words to cases in which a given level of competence is required. The level may be very high and, in the case of important items of learning, it may even entail total success. In other cases, minimum levels may be indicated for each of the objectives or for each part of the course. Care must be taken, however, not to restrict the student to fulfilling only these minimum demands.

In the diagram below, which illustrates a student's results, we see that a minimum is provided for each of the sections: parts of the course (e.g. modules), objectives or others. The minimum required varies from one section to another; the requirement may even be as high as 100 per cent competence, as illustrated in section 2.

Statistic

TEACHING WITHOUT SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES

Aim of evaluation

Most of the time, evaluation takes place at the end of a learning unit; whether such evaluation is frequent or otherwise, it does not encourage the student to go back over learning difficulties. Such evaluation, focusing on certification and promotion, is called ex post facto evaluation and it often provides a fairly rapid and comprehensive feedback.

EX POST FACTO EVALUATION

Demands made in relation to learning

There may be certain weak spots in the training given: success in one part of the course serves to offset failure in another, however important the latter may he. The demands made in respect of certain items of learning may be circumvented by a process of averaging out.

In the diagram below, which illustrates the results of an individual student, we see that marks of 40 per cent in section 1, 45 per cent in section 2 and 65 per cent in section 3 give an average of 50 per cent if the sections carry the same weighting. If the required average mark is 50 per cent it is possible to take the view that success has been achieved even if serious learning problems arise in connection with sections 1 and 2.

Statistic

TEACHING WITH SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES

The objectives evaluated

In the case of ongoing evaluation in a context of 'mastery learning', all objectives are generally evaluated, whether they are easy or difficult. In order to identify learning problems, the objectives evaluated are generally those set at the beginning of a learning sequence which are those preceding the attainment of more complex objectives.

It is easier to make the attainment of certain objectives, such as the ability to carry out self-evaluation, a prerequisite for successful completion of the course, even if no mark is awarded in respect of those objectives.

TEACHING WITHOUT SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES

The objectives evaluated

As evaluation is in most cases of the ex post facto type, what is evaluated is a sample of the content, in other words the most important parts. Thus, it might happen that a learning problem does not come to light and that a time comes when it is too late to remedy it. This happens above all where there are cumulative learning tasks.

TEACHING WITH SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES

Re-utilization of evaluation material

With specific objectives it is possible to compile an item bank for use in cases where attainment of the objectives can be verified by means of a number of questions. Each of the questions thus corresponds to an objective and it may be coded accordingly. The item banks make it possible to devise several different versions of a test. This is very useful when ongoing evaluation is used for a large number of students.

Interdisciplinarity

Interdisciplinarity is easier to achieve, where required. The objectives make it possible to discern the skills and intellectual aptitudes which are common to different courses, so as to establish the necessary links between the various disciplines.

TEACHING WITHOUT SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES

Re-utilization of evaluation material

A single test is given to the entire class for each part of the subject-matter which is to be tested by this means of evaluation. It sometimes happens that an entirely different test is given from one session to another unless the test given at the previous session is reused, either in its entirety or in part, with the risks that it involves. Thus evaluation material which cannot be re-used is constantly being produced.

InterdiscipIinarity

It is more difficult to see how, on the basis of content alone, interdisciplinarity can be effectively structured.

TEACHING WITH SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES

Evaluation of the curriculum

Certain approaches to curriculum evaluation are facilitated by writing of objectives which affords an opportunity to reexamine the relevance of the objectives. There will be a chance to check whether or not the learning items are arranged in an appropriate sequence. A check may be made as to whether the objectives specified in the curriculum have been attained. However, results which had not been anticipated must also be studied in the light of the objectives.

Evaluation may be of the ex post facto type (to form a global assessment of the advantages of a particular curriculum as compared with others) or of the ongoing type (to introduce the adjustments that are necessary in order to attain or modify the objectives).

TEACHING WITHOUT SPECIFIC OBJECTIVES

Evaluation of the curriculum

There is a risk that the evaluation of the curriculum will be restricted to checking whether the teachers, the students and the outside bodies concerned are satisfied.


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