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Date posted: January 1, 2012

Dr. Munir Ahmed R
BSc (Teaching Technology), GCEH, MD (Hom), MBA (Edn. Mgt), CCID
Co-ordinator, Curriculum Development Cell, FRLHT, Bangalore
Professor, GHMC, Bangalore

Definition of Education
Education can be defined as a continuous process that aims at bringing about desirable changes in the behaviour of learners on a relatively permanent basis and which are evident by way of acquisition of knowledge, proficiency of skills and development of values.

History of taxonomy of educational objectives
Since a long time, organised educational system is facing difficulties with student evaluation. A group of educational psychologists took up the challenge of infusing transparency in teaching and evaluation. Thus, at the convention of American Psychological Association in1948, a group of teachers decided to adapt the model of taxonomy used in biology for educational practices. They described this classification Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. This informal group consisted of Benjamin Bloom, Max D. Englehart, Edward J. Furst, Walker H. Hill, David Krathwohl and Bertran B. Masic among others.

Their findings were published in the book – Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals, handbook 1: Cognitive Domain in the year 1956. This group of psychologists identified that most of educational objectives can be grouped under three headings – cognitive, affective and psychomotor. The cognitive domain, according to this book includes such educational objectives as dealing with recall or recognition of knowledge and development of intellectual abilities and skills. The educational objectives in affective domain are concerned with ‘changes in the interest, attitudes and values, and the development of appreciations and adequate adjustments’. The educational objectives belonging to psychomotor domain refer to ‘the manipulative or motor skill area’.

Further, this book explained the various levels of cognitive domain. The hierarchy of objectives in affective domain were explained in Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals, Handbook 2: Affective Domain that was published in the year 1964.

This group did not explore the hierarchy of educational objectives in psychomotor domain. Many others attempted to develop this hierarchy and in the year 1972, Elizabeth Simpson presented the levels of objectives psychomotor domain. The taxonomy marked an important milestone in the field of higher education. Since learners in higher education are adults, and seek reasons and purpose for their learning, educational objectives and their hierarchy provide a useful benchmark.

Aims and Objectives
Definition of aim : Aim can be defined as a Broad statement of educational activity, e.g., to understand disease. It describes what one intends to achieve at the end of an educational activity.

Definition of objective
Objective is a precise point in the direction of aim, e.g., identify uncommon symptoms. It can be defined as a statement of intent in an educational context. Other terms that are synonymous with educational objective are – teaching objectives, learning objectives, intended learning objectives, enabling objectives, instructional objectives, curriculum objectives, terminal objectives, operational objectives, performance objectives, outcomes, competencies, etc. Of these, the terms performance objectives and competencies refer more specifically to objectives in psychomotor domain.

Educational objective can be defined as a statement of intent in an educational context, which is demonstrable and measurable on predetermined parameters. Thus, educational objective is a statement that clarifies the complete range of activity and expected performance outcomes.

Functions of objectives

  • Purpose for teaching
  • Direction to teaching
  • Teaching made easy
  • Structure for teaching
  • The sequencing of objectives not only makes it easy to teach, but also provides a comprehensive structure to teaching.

Layers of educational objectives – core, intermediate, peripheral
Educational objectives determine learning contents. Because educational objectives determine what has to be learnt, it becomes necessary to know how much has to be taught / learnt. This classification of learning is made under three headings – must know, desirable to know and nice to know. This classification is equally applicable to each of the three domains of learning. The ‘must know’ segment consists of educational objectives that represent the core competences of the discipline. The learner must acquire the knowledge, skill and attitude listed in this category, if he / she has to be certified as competent / successful. These comprise of 70% of the total statements of educational objectives in the discipline. The other category is ‘desirable to know’, which constitutes 20% of educational objectives. This includes statements, which are not core competences, but something beyond it. These objectives complement the core competences and may become core objectives in higher levels of learning. ‘Nice to know’ consists of objectives that are of ‘general knowledge’ interest.  The significance of must know category is to ensure that the student passing out with a health sciences degree must have the basic and necessary competences to practice and provide health services competently and comprehensively. The purpose of including desirable and nice to know components is to differentiate the exceptional learner from the average ones for awarding grades in certifying exams.

Levels of educational objectives – institutional, departmental and specific learning

Educational objectives can also be classified at three different levels. The statements in this classification are more in the form of goals than objectives, as explained earlier to differentiate goal / aim and objectives.

The most broad and general from of goals are said to be institutional or course goals. These list the competences that a graduate has to acquire at the end of the course of study. These are mainly drawn from the national health policy and the strengths of the health sciences discipline for which the course is being prepared. While listing these goals, not only the current health needs, but also the future needs of the community have to be kept in mind, so that the course does not become obsolete and lose its relevance to society.

Departmental goals refer to the statements made for the subject / department in the context of the course. For example, anatomy is taught for various health sciences disciplines like medical, dental, nursing, physiotherapy, etc. But the teaching of anatomy in each of these disciplines determined by the course goals. There are situations, where goals of two or more departments within a course may overlap or complement each other. For example, the departments of Community Medicine and Paediatrics may share the goal for immunisation. Or the departments of Community Medicine and OBG may share the goals for Family Planning. Speaking of the homeopathic course, the departments of Community Medicine and Homeopathic Philosophy may share the goals of prevention of epidemics. The statements, which express these shared goals, are known as interdepartmental goals. These are at the same level as departmental goals.

Specific learning goals are same as instructional objectives. These are the specific statements, which are written for each departmental goal. These explain the precise and specific performance that is expected of the learner in the department at the end of a specified educational activity.

SLOs or Educational Objectives as they are more conventionally known, are explained in three different domains – cognitive, affective and psychomotor. The significance of knowing domains of learning is the possibility to plan the educational activity in an accountable manner. Such a planned educational activity provides space to think, understand and justify teaching / learning. In the absence of planning, the entire exercise may become vague, opinion based and dogmatic. As the saying goes, ‘if you fail to plan, you plan to fail’.

Domains of Education
Educational activity is broadly classified into three domains – cognitive, affective or psychomotor, depending on the type of intended learning objectives – whether it is acquisition of knowledge, development of attitude or proficiency of skill.

  • Cognitive domain is about learning the behaviours that involve thinking, understanding or explaining. It ranges from simple recalling of facts to implementation and justification of ideas and concepts.
  • Affective domain includes the learning behaviour that involves demonstration of feelings / values towards facts or concepts. It ranges from receptivity for people or events to automated empathy for them.
  • Psychomotor domain includes all the skill based performances like eye – hand / foot co-ordination. 

Characteristics of educational objectives
Relevant – It is already noted that while stating educational objectives we have to keep in mind the national health needs. Any effort made towards realising such health needs adds relevance. It can therefore be said that relevance of educational objectives depends on the extent to which these statements conform to the national health needs. Relevance of educational objectives is a three tier process – first determine course goals, second the departmental ones and finally the specific learning goals. Thus, educational objectives that are written can be said to be relevant.

Valid – It is the degree to which the statement conforms to the domain to which it belongs.
Clear – The words must be precise and sentences clear. The idea is that message has to reach clear and correct. There should be no room for confusion, misinterpretation or vagueness. The major ingredient of any educational objectives statement is an active verb. The entire statement revolves around explanation for the verb, which must be clear and unambiguous.  

Feasible – The statement has to tell what is possible to do, both in terms of human capacity and resources / infrastructure available.

Observable – The very definition of learning is change in learner behaviour. Thus, to know whether learning has taken place, it is necessary to observe the changes that have taken place. Therefore, educational objectives have to be stated in terms that are observable.

Measurable – Measurability does not mean that learning has always to be quantitative. But to know whether learning has taken place, one has to measure the extent of change. Learning a skill could be qualitative, but the time taken to perform the skill before and after a learning session could be used as a benchmark to measure qualitative change.

Elements of educational objectives
Act – What the learner will be able ‘to do’ at the end of a learning session. This could be in any of the three domains. Depending on the domain, the appropriate verb has to be identified to state the act.

Content – It is the performance that learner is expected to demonstrate.

Condition – The conditions under which the performance is done. It includes the enabling and restraining factors. It also denotes the range of manoeuvrability.

Act, Content and Condition together constitute the Task

Criterion – This is the degree of freedom allowed for performance.

Exercise – 1.  Group Task on Educational Taxonomy

Indicate by a cross the components of Cognition ( C ), Psychomotor ( P ) or Affective ( A ) for each of the objectives listed below.

No. Objective Domain
C P A
1 State Virchow’s triad
2 Demonstrate the preparation of peripheral smear
3 Draw venous blood gently
4 Correlate normal and altered histology of liver in cirrhosis
5 Explain the role of miasms in the evolution of diseases
6 Compare and contrast gross pathology of lobar and lobular pneumonia
7 Collect urine for cultures
8 Follow the norms of confidentiality while storing laboratory results
9 List the factors influencing health
10 Interpret serological reports of Widal test
11 Organise a scanning camp for Malaria
12 Meaure specific gravity of urine
13 Demonstrate understanding of Hahnemann’s classification of diseases
14 List three causes of diarrhoea in children
15 Explain the procedure for Z N stain
16 Demonstrate sterilisation by autoclaving

Exercise -2. Group Task on Hierarchy of Cognitive Domain

From the following list, differentiate the objectives as belonging to – Recall, Understanding / Interpretation or Problem-solving category.

1. Given a case of acute inflammation, identify the phases of psora, sycosis and syphilis in its clinical presentation

2. Classify chronic inflammation

3. Define inflammation

4. Determine the cellular changes under microscope

5. Compare and contrast wound healing by primary and secondary intention

6. Based on histological information, identify and interpret the nature of inflammation

Exercise – 3. Framing of all levels of educational objectives
Each participant to frame one educational objective in each domain and discuss in the group. One Educational Objective from each domain to be presented by the group in the Plenary Session

Exercise – 4. Framing of complete specific learning objective
Frame a specific learning Objective, fulfilling all four elements, preferably pertaining to pathology teaching and discuss it in your group for presentation in the plenary session

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