Behavioral Objectives

Behavioral Objectives

Susan B. Bastable

Melissa F. Alt

Previous chapters addressed the characteristics and attributes of the learner with respect to learning needs, readiness to learn, and learning styles. Clearly, assessment of the learner is an essential first step in the teaching-learning process. Assessment determines what the learner needs to know, when and under which conditions the learner is most receptive to learning, and how the learner actually learns best or prefers to learn.

Before a decision can be made about selecting the content to be taught or choosing the instructional methods and materials to be used to change learner behavior, the educator must first decide what the learner is expected to accomplish. Client needs are determined by identifying gaps in the learner’s knowledge, attitudes, or skills. Identification of needs is a prerequisite to formulating behavioral objectives that serve as a “road map” (Nothwehr, Dennis, & Wu, 2007, p. 794) guiding subsequent planning, implementation, and evaluation of teaching and learning.

In the 20th century, noted educators and education psychologists developed approaches to writing and classifying behavioral objectives that offer teachers assistance in organizing instructional content for learners functioning at various levels of ability. Mager (1997) has been the primary educator credited with developing a system for writing behavioral objectives that serves to help teachers make appropriate instructional decisions as well as to assist learners in understanding what they need and are expected to know. The underlying principle has been that if one does not know where he or she is going, how will the person know when he or she has arrived?

In addition, the taxonomic system devised by Bloom, Englehart, Furst, Hill, and Krathwohl (1956) for categorizing learning objectives according to a hierarchy of behaviors has been the cornerstone of teaching for over half a century. This concept of taxonomy—that is, the ordering of these behaviors according to their type
and complexity—pertains to the nature of the knowledge to be learned, the behaviors most relevant and attainable for a particular learner or group of learners, and the sequencing of knowledge and experiences for learning.

Skill in preparing and classifying behavioral objectives is a necessary function of the educator’s role, whether teaching patients and their families in healthcare settings, teaching staff nurses in in-service and continuing education programs, or teaching nursing students in academic institutions. The importance of understanding the systems of writing and categorizing behavioral objectives for the purpose of specifying learner outcomes is imperative if data yielded from educational efforts are to be consistent and measurable. Additionally, the knowledge and use of these techniques are becoming essential because of the need to quantify and justify the costs of teaching others in an environment characterized by ever-increasing cost-containment pressures.

This chapter examines the importance of behavioral objectives for effective teaching; describes how to write clear and precise behavioral objectives; explores the levels of achievement in the taxonomic hierarchy of cognitive, affective, and psychomotor domains; and outlines the development of teaching plans and learning contracts. All of these elements provide a framework for the successful instruction of the learner.


It is important to clarify the meaning of the terms educational objectives, instructional objectives, and behavioral or learning objectives. Although often used synonymously, these terms can be distinguished from one another. Educational objectives are used to identify the intended outcomes of the education process, whether in reference to an aspect of a program or a total program of study, that guide the design of curriculum units. Instructional objectives describe the teaching activities and resources used to facilitate effective learning (Morrison, Ross, & Kemp, 2004). Behavioral objectives, also referred to as learning objectives, make use of the modifier behavioral or learning to denote that this type of objective is action oriented rather than content oriented, learner centered rather than teacher centered, and short-term outcome focused rather than process focused. Behavioral objectives describe precisely what the learner will be able to do following a learning situation.


The terms goal and objective are often used interchangeably—albeit incorrectly. In fact, a real difference exists between the two terms. This distinction must be clearly understood by nurse educators. Time span and specificity are the two factors that differentiate goals from objectives (Haggard, 1989).

A goal is the final outcome of what is achieved at the end of the teaching-learning process. A goal is a statement that describes the ideal or ultimate state of being at some future point in time. Goals are global and broad in nature; they serve as longterm targets for both the learner and the teacher. Goals are the desired outcomes of learning that are realistically achievable usually in weeks or months. They are considered multidimensional in that a number of objectives are subsumed under or incorporated into an overall goal.

An objective, in contrast, is a specific, single, unidimensional behavior. As stated by Anderson et al. (2001), “When we teach, we want our students to learn. What we want them to learn as a result of our teaching are our objectives” (p. 3). Objectives are short term in nature and should be achievable at the conclusion of one teaching session or usually within a matter of days following
a series of teaching sessions. According to Mager (1997), an objective describes a performance that learners should be able to exhibit before they are considered competent. A behavioral objective is the intended result of instruction, not the process or means of instruction itself. Objectives are statements of specific, short-term behaviors that lead step by step to the more general, overall long-term goal.

Subobjectives also may be written and reflect aspects of a main objective. They, too, are specific statements of short-term behaviors that lead to the achievement of the primary objective. Objectives and subobjectives specify what the learner will be able to do as a result of being exposed to one or more learning experiences.

Objectives must be achieved before the goal can be reached. They must be observable and measurable for the educator to be able to determine whether they have been met by the learner. Objectives can be thought of as advance organizers—that is, statements that inform the learner of what is expected from a cognitive, affective, or psychomotor perspective prior to meeting the goal, which is the intended outcome (Babcock & Miller, 1994). Objectives are derived from a goal and must be consistent with and related to that goal. As an analogy, a goal can be thought of as an entire pie, the objectives as individual portions of the pie that make up the goal, and the subobjectives as bite-sized pieces of a single portion of the pie.

Together, objectives and goals form a map that provides directions (objectives) as to how to arrive at a particular destination (goal). For example, a goal might be that a patient with diabetes will learn to manage his or her disease. To accomplish this goal, which both the nurse and the patient have agreed on, specific objectives must be outlined to address changes in behavior such as those related to diet therapy, insulin administration, exercise regimens, stress management, and glucose monitoring. The objectives to accomplish the goal become the blueprint for attaining the desired outcomes of learning.

The successful achievement of predetermined objectives is, in part, the result of appropriate instruction. Certainly, many other factors, such as learner motivation and ability to perform, are also key factors to the successful demonstration of specific behaviors before the learner can be declared to have overall competence in the desired behavior.

If the teaching-learning process is to be successful, the setting of goals and objectives must be a mutual decision on the part of both the teacher and the learner. Both parties must participate in the decision-making process and buy into the immediate objectives and ultimate goals. Involving the learner right from the start in creating goals and objectives is absolutely crucial. Otherwise, time and effort on the part of the educator and the learner may be wasted, because the learner may choose to reject the content if it is deemed—at least from his or her perspective—to be unimportant, irrelevant, impractical, unattainable, or something already known.

Goal and objective setting for any educational experience should be as much a responsibility of the learner as it is of the teacher. Blending what the learner wants to learn with what the teacher has determined that the learner needs to know into a common set of objectives and goals provides for an educational experience that is mutually accountable, respectful, developmental, and fulfilling (Reilly & Oermann, 1990).

Objectives and goals must also be clearly written, realistic, and learner centered. If they do not precisely state what the learner is expected to do in the short and long term, then the learning process will lack clear guideposts to follow or an obvious end result to strive for. Likewise, if goals and objectives are unrealistic in that they are too difficult to achieve, the learner can become discouraged, which dampens motivation and interferes with the ability to comply. For instance,
a goal that a patient will maintain a salt-free diet is likely to be impossible to accomplish or to adhere to over an extended period of time. Establishing a goal of maintaining a low-salt diet, with the objectives of learning to avoid eating and preparing high-sodium foods, is a much more realistic and achievable expectation of the learner.

Also, goals and objectives must be directed to what the learner is expected to be able to do, not what the teacher is expected to teach. Educators must be sure not only that their teaching remains objectives oriented, but also that the objectives are learner centered. This approach keeps educators targeted on results, not on the act of teaching. Educators must remember, as Anderson et al. (2001) emphasize, not all learners will take away the same thing from the same instruction, unless objectives are focused and precisely expressive.


Educators have made strong arguments both for and against the use of behavioral objectives for teaching and learning. Certainly, behavioral objectives are not a panacea for all the problems encountered in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of education (Reilly & Oermann, 1990). The following list, based on the contributions by Arends (2011); Reilly and Oermann (1990); Haggard (1989); Durbach, Goodall, and Wilkinson (1987); Brottman (2009); and Morrison et al. (2004), presents some common arguments by educators against using behavioral objectives:

  • The understanding by experienced educators of learners’ needs is so sophisticated that the exercise of writing behavioral objectives is superfluous.

  • The practice of writing specific behavioral objectives leads to reductionism, a format that reduces behavioral processes into equivalents that do not reflect the sum total of the parts.

  • Objective writing is a time-consuming task, requiring more effort for development than is warranted by their effect on an instructional program. That is, the cost-benefit ratio does not justify the amount of time required to formulate objectives.

  • The preparation of objectives is merely a pedagogic exercise often expressing the teacher’s expectations of the outcome of teaching and precluding the opportunity for learners to seek their own objectives.

  • Predetermined objectives, with their emphasis on precise and observable learner behaviors, force teachers and learners to attend only to specific areas, which stifles creativity and interferes with the freedom to learn and to teach.

  • The writing of specific objectives is incompatible with the many complex fields of study such as nursing because an infinite number of objectives are possible for almost any subject or topic.

  • Behavioral objectives are unable to capture the more intricate cognitive processes that are not readily observable and measurable.

The rationale for using behavioral objectives, however, far outweighs the arguments against their use. The following considerations justify the need for writing behavioral objectives (Ferguson, 1998; Krau, 2011; Morrison et al., 2004). Careful construction of objectives

  • Helps to keep educators’ thinking on target and learner centered.

  • Communicates to others—both learners and healthcare team members alike—what is planned for teaching and learning.

  • Helps learners understand what is expected of them so that they can keep track of their progress.

  • Forces the educator to organize educational materials so as not to get lost in content and forget the learner’s role in the process.

  • Encourages educators to question their own motives—to think deliberately about why they are doing things and analyze which positive results will be attained from accomplishing specific objectives.

  • Tailors teaching to the learner’s particular circumstances and needs.

  • Creates guideposts for teacher evaluation and documentation of success or failure.

  • Focuses attention not on what is taught but on what the learner will come away with once the teaching-learning process is completed.

  • Orients both teacher and learner to the specific end results of instruction.

  • Makes it easier for the learner to visualize performing the required actions.

Robert Mager (1997), a recognized authority on preparing behavioral objectives, points out three other major advantages realized through writing explicit objective statements:

1. They provide a sound basis for the selection or design of instructional content, methods, and materials.

2. They provide learners with the means to organize their efforts and activities toward accomplishing the intent of instruction.

3. They allow for a determination as to whether an objective has, in fact, been accomplished.

As Mager (1997) asks, “If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know which road to take to get there?” (p. 14). That is, before the educator prepares instruction, before materials and teaching methods are selected and implemented, and before the means to evaluate learning is chosen, it is important to clearly and concisely state the intended results of instruction. To paraphrase Mager’s thinking, mechanics do not select repair tools until they know what has to be fixed; surgeons do not choose instruments until they know which operation is to be performed; and builders do not buy construction materials before drafting a blueprint.

Haggard (1989) summarizes the following questions that arise if objectives are not always written:

  • How will anyone else know which objectives have been set?

  • How will the educator evaluate and document success or failure?

  • How will learners keep track of their progress?

The writing of objectives is not merely a mechanical task, but rather a synthesizing process. The process of developing behavioral objectives not only helps educators explore their own knowledge, values, and beliefs about the entire spectrum of teaching and learning but also encourages them to examine the experiences, values, motivations, and knowledge of the learner. The time and effort expended in writing objectives represent a thoughtful deliberation about the knowledge, attitude, and skill requirements needed by the learner in meeting the desired level of competency.

The educator and learner should work together to compose objectives and goals that focus on what is to be accomplished in the short and long run. This process provides direction that helps the educator and learner identify the following aspects of the teaching-learning process:

  • The time that will be needed for teaching and learning

  • The clues as to how the learner best acquires information

  • The teaching methods that will work most effectively

  • The best ways to evaluate the learner’s progress

In addition, the process of stating well-written objectives encourages the educator to seriously contemplate what is worth teaching and what is worth spending time to accomplish. Also, this process can serve to highlight the value of an existing instructional program and provide the basis for improving a current teaching plan. Thus the mutual setting of objectives and goals is considered by many educators to be the initial, most important consideration in the education process (Haggard, 1989; Mager, 1997).


Well-written behavioral objectives give learners very clear statements about what is expected of them and assist teachers in being able to measure learner progress toward achieving outcomes of learning. Over the years, Robert Mager’s (1997) approach to writing behavioral objectives has become widely accepted among educators. His message to educators is that for objectives to be meaningful, they must precisely, clearly, and very specifically communicate the teacher’s instructional intent (Arends, 2011).

According to Mager (1997), the format for writing concise and useful behavioral objectives includes the following three important characteristics:

1. Performance: Describes what the learner is expected to be able to do or perform to demonstrate the kinds of behaviors the teacher will accept as evidence that objectives have been achieved. Activities performed by the learner may be visible, such as writing or listing, or invisible, such as identifying or recalling.

2. Condition: Describes the testing situation, resources, assistance, or constraints under which the behavior will occur, will be observed, or will be completed.

3. Criterion: Describes how well, with which level of accuracy, or within which time frame the learner must be able to perform for the behavior to be considered acceptable; the standard, quality level, or amount of performance defined as satisfactorily demonstrating mastery. It is the level of competence that a learner must achieve.

These three characteristics translate into the following questions: (1) What should the learner be able to do? (2) Under which conditions should the learner be able to do it? (3) How well must the learner be able to do it?

A fourth component must also be included; it should describe the “who” to ensure that the behavioral objective is learner centered. For education in health care, the learner may be the patient, family members or significant others of the patient, staff nurses, or student nurses.

Thus behavioral objectives are statements that communicate who will do what under which conditions and how well (Cummings, 1994). The more complete the statements of objectives, the better the objectives will communicate what is expected of the learner and what the intent of instruction is. An easy way to remember the four elements that should be in a behavioral objective is to follow the ABCD rule proposed by Smaldino, Lowther, and Russell (2012):

A—audience (who)

B—behavior (what)

C—condition (under which circumstance)

D—degree (how much; how well; to what extent)

To link the behavioral objectives together, the following four steps are recommended:

1. Identify the testing situation (condition).

2. Identify who will perform (learner).

3. State what the learner will demonstrate (performance).

4. State how well the learner will perform (criterion).

For example, the following behavioral objective follows these steps: “Following a 20-minute teaching session on relaxation techniques (condition), Mrs. Smith (learner) will be able to identify (performance) three distinct techniques for lowering her stress level (criterion).”

Table 10-1 outlines the four-part method of objective writing. Table 10-2 gives examples of well-written and poorly written objectives.

There are actually two accepted approaches to writing behavioral objectives, depending on the audience of learners. Reilly and Oermann (1990) distinguish between what are known as specific behavioral objectives and general behavioral objectives. With both types of objectives, the learners and the behaviors to be learned must be clearly stated. The difference between the two types of objectives lies in the desirability of including the conditions of learning and the criteria for the level of performance expected.

Specific behavioral objectives are closed-ended statements that incorporate the condition and criterion for learning, which makes them more prescriptive and predictive for the measurement of outcomes. This relatively linear format for writing specific behavioral objectives is an asset to help focus the learning process on a step-by-step basis, especially when a low-level skill is the intended outcome. For example, when teaching a patient to test blood glucose levels or teaching a nurse a new procedural protocol for a dressing change, the writing of specific behavioral objectives is preferred.

TABLE 10-1 The Four-Part Method of Objective Writing

Condition (Testing Situation)

Who (Identify Learner)

Performance (Learner Behavior)

Criterion (Quality or Quantity of Mastery)

Without using a calculator

the student

will solve

5 out of 6 math problems

Using a model

the staff nurse

will demonstrate

the correct procedure for changing sterile dressings

Following group discussion

the patient

will list

at least two reasons for losing weight

After watching a video

the caregiver

will select

high-protein foods with 100% accuracy

General behavioral objectives, which do not include the condition or criterion for learning, are open-ended statements that lend themselves to use in evaluating higher cognitive skills. This format is more appropriate for stating outcomes of an academic program, when knowledge of the learner is not expected to be merely an accumulation of designated parts, but rather an integration and synthesis of broader concepts and theories over time. As such, the writing of general behavioral objectives is more compatible when teaching nurses in a staff development program or nursing students in a course within a professional program of study. This approach allows teachers to be more creative in teaching and accommodates acceptable variations in the learner that foster the creative expression of ideas and knowledge. In addition, it allows the educator to assign grades, which distinguishes high achievers from moderate to lower achievers.

It is important to recognize the existence of and distinction between these two types of behavioral objectives. In this chapter, however, the focus is on writing specific behavioral objectives appropriate
for the learning of particular skill sets by patients and their significant others.

TABLE 10-2 Samples of Written Objectives

Well-Written Objectives

  • After watching a demonstration on suctioning, the staff member will be able to correctly suction a tracheostomy tube using aseptic technique.

  • Following a class on hypertension, the patient will be able to state three out of four causes of high blood pressure.

  • On completing the reading materials provided on the care of a newborn, the mother will be able to express any concerns she has about caring for her baby after discharge.

  • After conducting a thorough health assessment, the staff nurse will create a nursing care plan consisting of at least three needs of the patients.

  • After a 20-minute teaching session, the patient will verbalize at least two feelings or concerns associated with wearing a colostomy bag.

  • After reading handouts, the patient will be able to state three examples of foods that are sources of protein.

Poorly Written Objectives

  • The patient will be able to prepare a menu using low-salt foods. [Condition and criterion missing]

  • Given a list of exercises to relieve low back pain, the patient will understand how to control low back pain. [Performance not stated in measurable terms; criterion missing]

  • The nurse will demonstrate crutch walking postoperatively to the patient. [Teacher-centered]

  • During discharge teaching, the patient will be more comfortable with insulin injections. [Performance not stated in measurable terms; condition missing; criterion missing]

  • The patient will verbalize and demonstrate the proper steps to performing self-catheterization. [Contains two expected behaviors; criterion missing; time frame missing]

  • After a 20-minute teaching session, the patient will appreciate knowing the steps required to complete a fingerstick. [Performance not stated in measurable terms; criterion missing; condition missing]

In contrast to writing behavioral objectives, formulating well-written goals is another important skill for the educator to acquire. In particular, a goal statement should clearly express the intended outcome the learner is expected to achieve in the long run after a series of specific behavioral objectives have been met. A goal represents the anticipated end result of an aggregate of behavior changes in the learner that are predicted to occur. It should reflect the final destination that the learner, in partnership with the educator, is striving to reach. A goal statement needs to be a succinctly written sentence that is learner centered, future oriented, realistic, and achievable within a reasonable time frame. Unlike behavioral objectives, a goal statement does not contain the characteristics of condition and criterion. A goal is a broad statement of behavior that identifies the learner, uses a future tense verb, and includes the overall outcome of learning to be achieved. Examples of well-written goal statements can be found in Appendix C.

Performance Words with Many or Few Interpretations

When writing behavioral objectives using the format suggested by Mager (1997), the recommendation is to use precise action words (verbs as labels, known as verbals) that are open to few interpretations when describing learner performance.

An objective is considered useful only when it clearly states what a learner must demonstrate for mastery in a knowledge, attitude, or skill area. A performance verb (verbal) describes what the learner is expected to do. A performance may be overt, visible, or audible—for example, the learner is able to list, to write, to state, or to walk. These performances are directly observable. Alternatively, a performance may be invisible—for example, the learner is able to identify, to solve, to recall, or to recognize. Any performance, visible/audible or invisible, described by a “doing” word is measurable.

If a word is used to describe something a learner can be, then it is not a doing word but rather a being word. Examples of being words, known also as abstractions, include to understand, to know, to enjoy, and to appreciate (Mager, 1997). Understanding, knowing, enjoying, and appreciating are considered abstract states of being that cannot be directly measured but merely inferred from performances. Therefore, verbs that signify an internal state of thinking, feeling, or believing should be avoided because they are difficult to measure or observe.

TABLE 10-3 Verbals with Many or Few Interpretations

Terms with Many Interpretations (Not Recommended)

Terms with Few Interpretations (Recommended)

to know

to apply

to explain

to understand

to choose

to identify

to appreciate

to classify

to list

to realize

to compare

to order

to be familiar with

to construct

to predict

to enjoy

to contrast

to recall

to value

to define

to recognize

to be interested in

to describe

to select

to feel

to demonstrate

to state

to think

to differentiate

to verbalize

to learn

to distinguish

to write

Sources: Adapted from Gronlund, N. E. (1985). Stating objectives for classroom instruction (3rd ed.). New York: Macmillan; Gronlund, N. E. (2004). Writing instructional objectives for teaching and assessment (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall.

It is impossible to identify all behavioral terms that might potentially be used in objective writing. The important thing to remember in selecting verbs (verbals) to describe performance is that they must be specific, observable or measurable, and action oriented. As stated by Anderson et al. (2001), if the teacher is able to describe the behavior to be attained, it will be easily recognized when learning has occurred. The lists in Table 10-3 give examples of verbals that, on the one hand, are too broad, ambiguous, and imprecise to evaluate
and, on the other hand, are specific and relatively easy to measure (Gronlund, 1985; Gronlund & Brookhart, 2008).


In formulating behavioral objectives, both the novice and the seasoned educator are vulnerable to some common pitfalls. The most frequently encountered errors in writing objectives are the following:

  • Describing what the instructor rather than the learner is expected to do

  • Including more than one expected behavior in a single objective (avoid using the compound word and to connect two verbs—e.g., the learner will select and prepare)

  • Forgetting to identify all four components of condition, performance, criterion, and the learner

  • Using terms for performance that are subject to many interpretations, not action oriented, and difficult to measure

  • Writing objectives that are unattainable given the ability level of the learner

  • Writing objectives that do not relate to the stated goal

  • Cluttering objectives by including unnecessary information

  • Being too general so as not to specify clearly the expected behavior to be achieved

If you use the SMART rule, it is easy to create effective objectives for different audiences in diverse settings. This objective-setting process is shown in Table 10-4.

TABLE 10-4 Writing SMART Objectives


Be specific about what is to be achieved (i.e., use strong action verbs, be concrete).


Quantify or qualify objectives by including numeric, cost, or percentage amounts or the degree/level of mastery expected.


Are your objectives attainable?


Are resources available to achieve objectives (i.e., personnel, facilities, equipment)?


When will the objectives be achieved (i.e., within a week, a month, by the day of patient discharge, before a new staff member completes orientation)?

Source: Adapted from Glenn M. Parker Associates, Inc. (2000). Team workout. Amherst, MA: HRD Products.


A taxonomy is a mechanism used to categorize things according to how they are related to one another. “A taxonomy is a special kind of framework in which categories lie along a continuum” (Anderson et al., 2001, p. 4). For example, biologists use taxonomies to classify plants and animals based on their natural characteristics.

In the late 1940s, psychologists and educators became concerned about the need to develop a system for defining and ordering levels of behavior according to their type and complexity (Reilly & Oermann, 1990). Bloom et al. (1956) and Krathwohl, Bloom, and Masia (1964) developed
a very useful taxonomy, known as the taxonomy of educational objectives, as a tool for systematically and logically classifying behavioral objectives. This taxonomy, which became widely accepted as a standard aid for planning as well as evaluating learning, is divided into three broad categories or domains—cognitive, affective, and psychomotor.

Inherent in the concept of taxonomy is the notion that although these three domains of cognitive, affective, and psychomotor learning are described as existing as separate entities, they are, in fact, interdependent and can be experienced simultaneously. Humans do not possess thoughts, feelings, and actions in isolation of one another and typically do not compartmentalize learning. For example, the affective domain influences the cognitive domain, and vice versa; the processes of thinking and feeling influence psychomotor performance, and vice versa (Menix, 1996).

FIGURE 10-1 Domain hierarchies.

In the taxonomy of educational objectives, the objectives in each domain are ordered in a taxonomic form of hierarchy. Behavioral objectives are classified into low, medium, and high levels, with simple behaviors listed first (designated by numbers 1.0 and 2.0), followed by behaviors of moderate difficulty (designated by numbers 3.0 and 4.0), with the more complex behaviors listed last (designated by numbers 5.0, 6.0, and 7.0). Subobjectives are listed under the main objective and are designated by numbers that range between whole numbers (e.g., an objective may have subobjectives identified as 2.1, 2.2, 2.3). Inherent in the concept of hierarchy is a serial structure in which learners must successfully achieve behaviors at lower levels of the domains (1.0 or 2.0) before they are able to adequately learn behaviors at higher levels of the domains (3.0 to 7.0). Thus, to use an analogy of climbing a ladder, you cannot get to the top unless you go up one step at a time (Figure 10-1).

FIGURE 10-1 (Continue)

FIGURE 10-1 (Continue)

The Cognitive Domain

The cognitive domain is known as the “thinking” domain. Learning in this domain involves the acquisition of information and addresses the development of the learner’s intellectual abilities, mental capacities, understanding, and thinking processes (Eggen & Kauchak, 2012). Objectives in this domain are divided into six levels, each specifying cognitive processes ranging from the simple (knowledge) to the more complex (evaluation), as listed and described by Bloom et al. (1956) (Table 10-5).


Knowledge level: After a 20-minute teaching session, the patient will be able to state with accuracy the definition of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Comprehension level: After watching a 10-minute video on nutrition following gastric bypass surgery, the patient will be able to give at least three examples of food choices that will be included in the diet.

Application level: On completion of a cardiac rehabilitation program, the patient will modify three exercise regimes that can fit into his or her lifestyle at home.

Analysis level: After reading handouts provided by the nurse educator, the family member will calculate the correct number of total grams of protein included on average per day in the family diet.

Synthesis level: Given a sample list of foods, the patient will devise a menu to include foods from the four food groups (dairy, meat, vegetables and fruits, and grains) in the recommended amounts for daily intake.

Evaluation level: Following a thorough nursing orientation, the nurse will assess his or her readiness to function independently as a staff nurse.

TABLE 10-5 Levels of Cognitive Behavior

Knowledge (1.00-1.99): Ability of the learner to memorize, recall, define, recognize, or identify specific information, such as facts, rules, principles, conditions, and terms, presented during instruction.

Comprehension (2.00-2.99): Ability of the learner to demonstrate an understanding or appreciation of what is being communicated by translating it into a different form or recognizing it in a translated form, such as grasping an idea by defining it or summarizing it in his or her own words (knowledge is a prerequisite behavior).

Application (3.00-3.99): Ability of the learner to use ideas, principles, abstractions, or theories in particular and concrete situations, such as figuring, writing, reading, or handling equipment (knowledge and comprehension are prerequisite behaviors).

Analysis (4.00-4.99): Ability of the learner to recognize and structure information by breaking it down into its constituent parts and specifying the relationship between parts (knowledge, comprehension, and application are prerequisite behaviors).

Synthesis (5.00-5.99): Ability of the learner to put together parts and elements into a unified whole by creating a unique product that is written, oral, pictorial, and so on (knowledge, comprehension, application, and analysis are prerequisite behaviors).

Evaluation (6.00-6.99): Ability of the learner to judge the value of something, such as an essay, design, or action, by applying appropriate standards or criteria (knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, and synthesis are prerequisite behaviors).

Table 10-6 lists verbs commonly used in writing cognitive-level behavioral objectives.


A variety of teaching methods and tools exist for the primary purpose of developing cognitive abilities. Nevertheless, the methods most often used to stimulate learning in the cognitive domain include lecture, one-to-oneinstruction, andself-instruction activities such as computer-assisted instruction. Verbal, written, and visual tools are all particularly successful in supplementing the teaching methods to help learners master cognitive content. For example, research has shown computer-assisted instruction to be effective in teaching clients about HIV prevention and students about musculoskeletal testing (Evans, Edmunson-Drane, & Harris, 2000; Ford, Mazzone, & Taylor, 2005).

TABLE 10-6 Commonly Used Verbs According to Domain Classification

Cognitive Domain

Knowledge: choose, circle, define, identify, label, list, match, name, outline, recall, report, select, state

Comprehension: describe, discuss, distinguish, estimate, explain, generalize, give example, locate, recognize, summarize

Application: apply, demonstrate, illustrate, implement, interpret, modify, order, revise, solve, use

Analysis: analyze, arrange, calculate, classify, compare, conclude, contrast, determine, differentiate, discriminate

Synthesis: categorize, combine, compile, correlate, design, devise, generate, integrate, reorganize, revise, summarize

Evaluation: appraise, assess, conclude, criticize, debate, defend, judge, justify

Affective Domain

Receiving: accept, admit, ask, attend, focus, listen, observe, pay attention

Responding: agree, answer, conform, discuss, express, participate, recall, relate, report, state willingness, try, verbalize

Valuing: assert, assist, attempt, choose, complete, disagree, follow, help, initiate, join, propose, volunteer

Organization: adhere, alter, arrange, combine, defend, explain, express, generalize, integrate, resolve

Characterization: assert, commit, discriminate, display, influence, propose, qualify, solve, verify

Psychomotor Domain

Perception: attend, choose, describe, detect, differentiate, distinguish, identify, isolate, perceive, relate, select, separate

Set: attempt, begin, develop, display, position, prepare, proceed, reach, respond, show, start, try

Guided response, mechanism, and complex overt response: align, arrange, assemble, attach, build, change, choose, clean, compile, complete, construct, demonstrate, discriminate, dismantle, dissect, examine, find, grasp, hold, insert, lift, locate, maintain, manipulate, measure, mix, open, operate, organize, perform, pour, practice, reassemble, remove, repair, replace, separate, shake, suction, turn, transfer, walk, wash, wipe

Adaptation: adapt, alter, change, convert, correct, rearrange, reorganize, replace, revise, shift, substitute, switch

Origination: arrange, combine, compose, construct, create, design, exchange, reformulate

Sources: Adapted from Gronlund, N. E. (1985). Stating objectives for classroom instruction (3rd ed.). New York: Macmillan; Gronlund, N. E. (2004). Writing instructional objectives for teaching and assessment (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall.

Cognitive skills can be gained by exposure to all types of educational experiences, including the
instructional methods used primarily for affective and psychomotor learning. Cognitive knowledge, however, is an essential prerequisite for the learner to engage in other educational activities such as group discussion or role playing. Otherwise, what results is pooled ignorance. For example, clients cannot adequately learn through group discussion if they do not possess an accurate and at least basic knowledge level of the subject at hand to draw on for purposes of discourse. Participating in a group discussion experience, in turn, is not the same thing as engaging in a brainstorming session. Brainstorming does not necessarily require prior knowledge of information about issues or problems to be explored.

Cognitive domain learning is the traditional focus of most teaching. In education of patients, nursing staff, and students, emphasis remains on the sharing of facts, theories, concepts, and the like. Cognitive processing—that is, the means through which knowledge is acquired—often takes precedence over psychomotor skill development and the learning of affective behaviors (Ellis, 1993). Perhaps this emphasis has evolved because educators typically feel more confident and more skilled in being the giver of information than in being the facilitator and coordinator of learning. Lecture and one-to-one instruction are the most frequently used methods of teaching. Both of these instructional approaches, when delivered in a typical fashion, are directed almost exclusively at the cognitive domain.

With respect to cognitive learning, how much time for practice is necessary to influence the short-term and long-term retention of factual information? Cognitive scientists have been exploring the allocation of practice time to the learning of new material. Generally, research findings indicate that learning distributed over several sessions leads to better memory than information learned in a single session.

This phenomenon has been described by Willingham (2002) as the “spacing effect.” That is, learning information all at once on one day, an approach known as massed practice, is much less effective for remembering facts than learning information over successive periods of time, an approach known as distributed practice. Massed practice, similar to what is commonly identified as “cramming,” might allow the recall of information for a short time, but evidence strongly supports that distributed practice is very important in forging memories that last for years.

The effect of spreading out learning over time is very clear. The average person exposed to distributed practice remembers 67% better than people who receive massed training. That is, spacing the time allocated for learning significantly increases memory. The longer the delays between practice sessions, the greater and more permanent is the learning. In fact, if learning is distributed over time, not only does this spacing effect hold, but it becomes even more robust (Willingham, 2002).

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Sep 9, 2016 | Posted by in NURSING | Comments Off on Behavioral Objectives

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