Some Thoughts on Selecting Verbs for Learning Objectives

Some Thoughts on Selecting Verbs for Learning Objectives

Some thoughts based on a posting for participants in the Sloan-C workshop on using the Quality Matters rubric...

Selecting appropriate verbs for learning objectives can be a tricky issue. Two good rules of thumb are: 1) select verbs in objectives based on utility, and 2) that means (among other things) don't be too rigid or rule-bound when doing this. To elaborate:

a) Measurable objectives are meant to measure what students can do, but also what they know or how their affect has changed. Measuring knowledge gets tricky because ultimately we have to rely on behavior (i.e., doing) that demonstrates knowledge -- hence verbs such as explain, interpret, distinguish, et al. that indicate what students (now) know, i.e., have learned as a result of the learning experience.

b) Some verbs may appear to be harder to measure -- e.g., "evaluate", "assess" -- but they are measurable. Here it's helpful to remember the "taxonomy" part of Bloom's cognitive taxonomy -- verbs such as "evaluate", "assess", et al. measure higher-level learning (i.e., synthesis and evaluation in the original domain taxonomy, evaluating and creating in a more modern version, as illustrated by Don Clark's web site on Bloom's. (Here is another good chart of action verbs for Bloom's cognitive taxonomy.)

c) It's helpful to remember that there is more than one Bloom's taxonomy; educators often limit themselves to the cognitive domain taxonomy, but Bloom also created ones for the psychomotor and affective domains as well. The psychomotor domain generally applies more to skills training and less to academic subjects (with some notable exceptions, e.g., nursing, art, engineering graphics, etc.). The affective domain is too often overlooked, especially when learning goals do involve "feelings, values, appreciation, enthusiasms, motivations, and attitudes" (from Don Clark's site). So, for example, while "appreciate" is not one of the verbs listed in Clark's list of affective domain verbs, there are many verbs there that can be used to measure appreciation.

d) Finally, it also helps to remember that Bloom was not God. wink The taxonomy was meant to be a helpful tool for doing the more important work of enabling teachers and students to develop shared understandings of what students learn, including skills, knowledge, and attitudes (aka what they can do, know, and feel). In my career, I'm sure I've fallen many times into the trap of focusing too much on the toolset (in this case, action verb charts) and not enough on the purpose behind them. So I hope that these observations will help you move more quickly beyond that than I did...