Learning Objectives: “Perfect is the Enemy of Good!”

Learning Objectives: “Perfect is the Enemy of Good!”

Tamkin Khan (King Khalid University, Saudi Arabia), Shyamala Hande (Melaka Manipal Medical College, India), Sanjay Bedi (Maharishi Markandeshwar University, India), Tejinder Singh (Christian Medical College, India) and Vinay Kumar (University of Chicago, USA)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/ijudh.2012070105
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To deal with the lack of basic health care in India competency based training is the need of the hour (MCI, 1997). Use of learning objectives (LOs) in alignment with assessment ensures competency in the must know areas. In this paper the authors discuss the use of LOs in the enhancement of teaching-learning process. It is organized into seven sections that deal with the advantages, potential disadvantages, and strategies to overcome the problems with LOs as a tool. In particular, the philosophical and technical objections to the use of LOs are dealt with in detail by appropriate examples. They discuss the link between LOs and Bloom’s taxonomy of learning, Miller’s pyramid, and the need to make LOs developmental and congruent with assessment. The methodology for determining appropriate LOs is discussed in detail. Lastly the ABCD, Mager’s and Kern’s methods of writing objectives and limitations of each are discussed. The authors conclude that LOs are an important tool for competency based training and the current inability to come up with “perfect” LOs should not be a barrier to at least reach “good.” Like all other educational tools, LOs have to be improved incrementally based on student feedback recognizing that students are the best teachers of their “teachers.”
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A teacher for a kindergarten class was trying to explain to her students the meaning and use of the word—ACCIDENT. After explaining, she asked the students: Dear children, suppose Monday morning I am run over by a car while I am crossing the road, what would you call that?

The whole class replied in chorus—Monday, HOLIDAY!

This is what happens when the objectives of the teacher and the student do not match! Teaching-learning process is a challenge. Teaching-learning process for medical students is a greater challenge!

In order to provide a competent physician of first contact, competency based training and assessment is needed both at the undergraduate and postgraduate level (MCI, 1997, 2000). Educational goals and objectives help us deal with the challenge of producing an Indian medical graduate with the requisite knowledge, skills and values.

Definitions: Educational Goals versus Learning Objectives

Any curriculum should communicate clearly to the student our expected outcomes in a hierarchical relationship and help them organize their thoughts on how to accomplish the task. Goals and objectives serve this purpose.

Educational/Course Goal is a global statement about the projected outcomes of the course providing overall direction and vision. They do not give details of actual student performances or their measurement. They are further broken down to determine specific LOs that students will be able to achieve.

Educational Objectives are specific targets within the general goal. Objectives interpret the goals and focus and prioritize curricular components. They are narrow and time-bound to achieve a specific task which can be measured. Goals may be intangible while objectives are tangible. Objectives are learner oriented and stated in terms of learner's behavior at the end of an instruction or a course.



  • “Update readers on recent developments in drug therapy for pancreatic cancer”

  • “I want to achieve success in the field of research.”


  • “List the newer drugs in management of pancreatic cancer”

  • “I want to submit 2 papers for publication by the end of this month.”

Regardless of the philosophical view of how detailed the objectives should be and what nomenclature one uses, having a three tier hierarchical structure as follows is useful. The examples given help to illustrate our point (AAMC-HHMI, 2009).

Level 1/Goal

It is broad statement of general projected intentions, e.g., Apply the mechanisms of general and disease-specific pathological processes in health and disease to the prevention, diagnosis, management, and prognosis of critical human disorders.

Level 2/Objective

Specific, precise, targets within the general goal, measurable and time bound, e.g., Apply knowledge of cellular responses to injury, and the underlying etiology, biochemical and molecular alterations, to assess therapeutic interventions.

This is much more specific, it refers to the biochemical and molecular basis of cell injury.

Level 3/Sub-Objective

This level helps provide some more guidance to the students (and teachers!) by providing illustrative examples. Explain how free radicals are formed and removed from cells and conditions under which free radicals can benefit the body (e.g., free radical-mediated injury to microbes in phagocytes) or cause injury to tissues (as in reperfusions injury in myocardial infarction).

This hierarchy is comparable to Gilbuert’s (1984) general, intermediate and specific objectives.

Table 1.
Goals and objectives
Broad statements, general projected intentionsSpecific, precise, targets within the general goal
Longer time-frameTargets set for a short term
Abstract, vagueConcrete
Hard to measureMeasurable, observable

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