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

How to gather and organize information
How-to

How to gather and organize information

Aug. 3, 2021

If you do not have a method when writing grants and papers, Sumit Borah invites you to use his; it’s based on an old analog system for organizing information on three-by-five-inch notecards.

Calendar of events, awards and opportunities
Announcement

Calendar of events, awards and opportunities

Aug. 1, 2021

This week: Last call for voting in ASBMB election. National Postdoctoral Association fellowship deadline. NIH Common Fund webinar on funding opportunities.

Wait, Ph.D.s are free? And other things they don’t tell you
Education

Wait, Ph.D.s are free? And other things they don’t tell you

July 30, 2021

Our academic careers columnist begins a two-part series on unspoken rules and other things students need to know but are rarely told about grad school.

Biotech industry jargon: A primer for the curious
Professional Development

Biotech industry jargon: A primer for the curious

July 29, 2021

The specific scientific and technical knowledge you need in an industry job depends on the role and will change over the course of your career. But it can help to know the basics.

Learning to love assessment
Education

Learning to love assessment

July 28, 2021

“As every scientist knows, there is no point in doing an experiment if you don’t have a way to assess the result. So assessment is a crucial step in teaching and learning.”

Calendar of events, awards and opportunities
Announcement

Calendar of events, awards and opportunities

July 25, 2021

Happening soon: Abstract deadline for ASBMB nucleolus meeting and a Lipid Research Division seminar. Just added: Webinar about NIH funding opportunities, submissions sought for pd|hub Collections and SACNAS diversity meeting.