Education

The surprising comfort
of learning objectives

Kristen  Procko Rebecca Roberts
By Kristen Procko and Rebecca Roberts
March 24, 2020

As many educators move from the classroom to online teaching, we are inundated with resources to help us make the transition, including videos, guides and apps we may have never heard of before. It is easy to feel overwhelmed with questions about how you should move your course online:

  • Should I use synchronous or asynchronous activities? Should I use both? 
  • Do I need to make new content? 
  • Do I use video conferencing? Should I use my learning-managmeent system (LMS) or another software? 
  • How do I assess the students? What do I need to consider?

While these are all valid and important questions, the details of how you will execute the course are secondary to an important consideration that you’ve already defined in your syllabus: the learning objectives for your course. These objectives were designed when you knew the method of instruction, but they hold true even if the method of instruction changes.

Here we provide some advice to support you during this pedagogical transition — a focus on learning objectives can provide comfort and a clear path forward.

Mapping your learning objectives

As you work through the transition to remote learning for your class, let the learning objectives be your guide. Start by mapping what you’ve already accomplished to your learning objectives; you may find that you’ve achieved many, if not all, of them already. This may relieve anxiety about lost classroom time. 

Follow this up by aligning the remaining course material to the learning objectives. This process should accomplish three goals:

  • Illuminate the objectives that you still need to cover.
  • Identify remaining course material that does not align with the objectives.
  • Identify remaining learning objectives that cannot be achieved easily through online learning.

If an objective already has been achieved, take comfort in this knowledge and realize that it may be acceptable under these circumstances to remove future material that also supported that objective. Focusing in on the learning objectives should ease the guilt of realizing that your students may miss out on your famous in-class demonstration or fantastic hands-on activity.

If course material (topics, assignments, demonstrations, activities, etc.) does not align with the objectives, decide if it is necessary to keep. The course you planned to teach is not the course you are being required to teach at this moment. It may not be ideal, but you can still provide students with a great experience if you streamline material while accomplishing the learning objectives.

It can be difficult to give up that perfect example or that brilliantly designed assignment, but compromise is important for our sanity right now. Remember that you are not designing the perfect online course; rather you are doing what is necessary to finish the course you’ve already started in the classroom.

Outlining learning objectives as a department

You may find that there are learning objectives that cannot be achieved easily through online learning. This is when some tough decisions need to be made. Are you (and the department, institution, etc.) comfortable with dropping that objective during this unprecedented time? This is when discussions with colleagues about departmental learning objectives can be valuable.

For example, at Ursinus College, the mapping activity showed that students in our Introductory Cell Biology Lab had achieved all course learning objectives with the exception of scientific oral communication. This objective is also a departmental objective and is a focus in all courses within the biology major. We were comfortable dropping it for this introductory course knowing that students will have plenty of opportunities to achieve the goal in the curriculum later on. 

Let your course learning objectives be your guide during this time. You wrote them for a purpose, let them do their job!

Kristen  Procko
Kristen Procko

Kristen Procko teaches chemistry and biochemistry for an online master’s program and creates open-source instructional videos through her YouTube channel, Molecular Memory

Rebecca Roberts
Rebecca Roberts

Rebecca Roberts is an associate professor of biology and of biochemistry and molecular biology at Ursinus College, Collegeville, Pennsylvania.

Featured jobs

from the ASBMB career center

Join the ASBMB Today mailing list

Sign up to get updates on articles, interviews and events.

Latest in Careers

Careers highlights or most popular articles

The impacts of COVID-19 on women’s mental health
Health Observance

The impacts of COVID-19 on women’s mental health

May 12, 2021

As the pandemic has stretched from weeks to months to over a year, data have emerged showing the unequal toll it has had on women’s mental and emotional health.

Calendar of events, awards and opportunities
Announcement

Calendar of events, awards and opportunities

May 9, 2021

Happening this week: Colloquium on GPCRs, talk about chromosome biology, webinar on mental health, and the first installment of our series on protonic bioenergetics and action potential.

How to tell if your college is trans-inclusive
Education

How to tell if your college is trans-inclusive

May 8, 2021

Here are some of the key features and policies that trans prospective students may want to consider in their college exploration process.

Your paper’s been rejected. What now?
Professional Development

Your paper’s been rejected. What now?

May 7, 2021

Our academic careers columnist writes about how to deal with paper rejection both mentally (how to not feel too bad) and practically (what to do next).

Calendar of events, awards and opportunities
Announcement

Calendar of events, awards and opportunities

May 2, 2021

Happening this week: The PDB50 celebration, deadline for BiolMolViz workshop applications, a SACNAS webinar on broader impacts and more.

Meet Efraín E. Rivera–Serrano
Jobs

Meet Efraín E. Rivera–Serrano

April 30, 2021

Careers columnist Martina G. Efeyini talked to Efraín E. Rivera–Serrano to learn how he made the switch from having one academic job to having several science communication jobs.