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Articulating Your Goals and Learning Objectives Online

You have written goals and learning objectives before, but they take on added importance in online courses.  Given that you will not be seeing your students face-to-face, it is crucial that you craft clear statements about what specifically you want your students to learn.  Well-crafted learning objectives guide the online course development process. The choice of course materials, assignments or activities, and assessments should all reflect the learning objectives. Each element of the course should relate back to one or more of the learning objectives.

The University of Washington has some helpful tips in “Planning a Distance Learning Course”.  They suggest that because you cannot orient your students to your course in person, you should write a comprehensive course introduction.  We would add that video screencasts are an excellent way to also introduce your course and spell out your expectations.  UW also suggests that well-designed, easy-to-follow lessons with interesting assignments are the key to a successful learning experience for the online student.  Lessons should have a consistent look, including such items as:

  • Overview of Lesson
  • Summary of Learning Objectives
  • Reading, viewing, or listening assignment
  • List of key terms
  • Discussion of Key Questions
  • Assignments or Exercises

Learning Contracts

The Illinois Online Network suggests that learning contracts can be useful in online classes.  Learning contracts connect educational needs to individual student needs and are useful when there is diversity in learner needs and interests in a class. A learning contract is a formal agreement written by a learner which details what will be learned, how the learning will be accomplished, the period of time involved, and the specific evaluation criteria to be used in judging the completion of the learning. Learning contracts can help you and the learner share the responsibility for learning.

Contract learning can bring about many practical benefits, including deeper involvement of the learner in the learning activities which they themselves have been involved in planning. Once a learner passes through the stage of confusion and anxiety associated with developing a contract, he/she will get excited about carrying out their own plans. Another benefit of utilizing contract learning is an increase of accountability, since the learning contract provides more functional and validated evidence of the learning outcomes. The contract also provides a means for the learner to receive continuous feedback regarding progress toward accomplishing learning objectives.

Learning contracts can be extremely effective in the online environment. Because physically meeting with the class to discuss learning goals, objectives, and expectations is difficult online, you as the instructor should be very clear and concise in what is expected from your students. Likewise, your students should also be clear about what he/she expects from you and your course. A learning contract can facilitate negotiation and clarity of learning goals and outcomes. Sample learning contracts can be placed on a web page for the student to use as examples, and students can be encouraged to brainstorm ideas for learning contracts with their online peers as well as negotiate the final contract with the instructor through utilizing email or online conferencing.

Virginia Commonwealth University  |  Center for Teaching Excellence
Last updated: 09/22/2009
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