Learning Outcomes, Aims and Objectives
Aims, objectives and intended learning outcomes refer to expressions of educational intention and purpose, which may be expressed with varying degrees of generality and specificity. An aim is a general expression of intent, and the degree of generality contained in the statement may vary from the very general in the case of long-term aims to the much less general in the case of short-term aims. An objective or intended learning outcome, by contrast, is characterized by greater precision and specificity. Again, at one extreme will be objectives that are fairly specific, and at the other, objectives that are extremely so. An aim is, in principle, infinite (e.g. to become educated, a process which never stops), whereas an objective tends to be more finite (e.g. to understand why heat melts ice).
An objective is more like an achievable target than an unachievable goal. One can see the attraction of both aims and objectives to educationalists.
For the former, targets link into action planning for, and by, students in their own learning. For the latter it links into target setting at a systems level, to which we alluded in Part I, where explicit targets were set for school achievement, e.g. for secondary schools: in June 2008 the target was described as the National Challenge. This was a programme to secure higher standards in secondary schools so that by 2011, at least 30 per cent of pupils in every school will gain five or more GCSEs at A* to C grade including both English and mathematics.
It is argued that setting targets is a useful strategy for accountability. For example, the Autumn Performance Report 2007, which evaluates government’s achievement against public service agreement targets found the following:
Objective II: Raise standards and tackle the attainment gap in schools Raise standards in English and mathematics so that:
• by 2006, 85 per cent of 11-year-olds achieve level 4 or above, with this level of performance sustained to 2008 (Element 1); and
• by 2008, the proportion of schools in which fewer than 65 per cent of pupils achieve level 4 or above is reduced by 40 per cent (Element 2).
Element 1: Not met
Element 2: Ahead
The very existence of this kind of national target per se is the reason that target setting is such a dominant and distorting feature of the work of teachers and pupils in England.
Targets, like many objectives, are specific, finite, frequently measurable, often time-bound, and strive for realism. In short, targets, objectives and intended learning outcomes are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. This can apply to governments, schools, individual teachers and learners, curricula and curriculum planning.
Long-term aims form the basis of a school’s raison d’être, defining the nature and character of its overall educational programme in relation to societal and individual needs. Short-term aims will constitute the logical starting point for curricula construction and the devising of schemes of work. Objectives and intended learning outcomes expressing varying degrees of specificity will be derived from such aims, especially the short-term ones, and will represent their translation into specific and tangible terms necessary for planning a course of lessons, individual lessons or units of learning on which the ultimate realization of the aims depends.
Aims constitute the basic elements in educational planning. Although existing at different levels of generality, collectively they make up the building blocks of the total programme. The most general aims, being broad and often abstract in their expression, will simply offer guidance as to the general direction of educational intention and will in no way indicate particular achievements within specified time limits (e.g. ‘To prepare children to meet the challenges of a technological age’). Aims of this nature, frequently social in character, express basic concepts of the purpose of the school and its overall intended outcomes. In this sense aims are perhaps synonymous with values. For example the New Labour vision for education was one of inclusion:
One nation, in which each citizen is valued and has a stake; in which no one is excluded from opportunity and the chance to develop their potential; in which we make it, once more, our national purpose to tackle social division and inequality.
The following examples of aims and objectives will help the reader to see the distinction between them more clearly.
1 To enable pupils to develop an appreciation of art in the twentieth century.
2 To introduce the class to the concept of heat.
3 To educate the whole child.
1 To introduce the class to the principal characteristics of the violin.
2 A review of the events leading up to the First World War.
3 To further the students’ appreciation of Hardy’s ‘The Darkling Thrush’.
Designers of educational programmes cannot always be too legislative on the question of what constitutes an aim and what constitutes an objective. What a teacher plans to do with a given statement of intent is the ultimate determinant of its nature. Aim 2 above, for instance, ‘To introduce the class to the concept of heat’, could conceivably form the basis of a lesson of one hour, in which case it would be seen as an objective. Alternatively, objective 1 listed above, ‘To introduce the class to the principal characteristics of the violin’, could equally form the basis of four weekly lessons, in which case it would be more appropriately labelled an aim.
The National Curriculum sets out two main aims:
1 The school curriculum should aim to provide opportunities for all pupils to learn and to achieve.
2 The school curriculum should aim to promote pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and to prepare all pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of life.
It also sets out four main purposes:
1 to establish entitlement
2 to establish standards
3 to promote continuity and coherence
4 to promote public understanding.
When the National Curriculum was first written, people rightly questioned what the values were that underpinned it. This resulted in a separate statement of values being added following an extensive consultation by the National Forum for Values in Education and the Community in May 1997. These values remained unchanged until the publication of the new secondary curriculum. The four areas of: the self; relationships; the diversity in our society; and the environment were simplified:
• the self, recognizing that we are unique human beings capable of spiritual, moral, intellectual and physical growth and development
• relationships as fundamental to the development and fulfilment of ourselves and others, and to the good of the community. We value others for themselves, not only for what they have or what they can do for us
• the diversity in our society, where truth, freedom, justice, human rights, the rule of law and collective effort are valued for the common good. We value families, including families of different kinds, as sources of love and support for all their members, and as the basis of a society in which people care for others. We also value the contributions made to our society by a diverse range of people, cultures and heritages
• the environment, both natural and shaped by humanity, as the basis of life and a source of wonder and inspiration which needs to be protected.
However, in addition to the simplification, the following paragraphs were added (the first paragraph as a preamble to the values and the second paragraph as a conclusion):
Education should reflect the enduring values that contribute to personal development and equality of opportunity for all, a healthy and just democracy, a productive economy, and sustainable development. These include values relating to: . . .
At the same time, education must enable us to respond positively to the opportunities and challenges of the rapidly changing world in which we live and work. In particular, we need to be prepared to engage as individuals, parents, workers and citizens with economic, social and cultural change, including the continued globalization of the economy and society, with new work and leisure patterns and with the rapid expansion of communications technologies.
It is a moot point whether ‘a productive economy’ is appropriate, or can even be regarded as a value at all. Also we question whether ‘we should be prepared to engage [with] the continued globalization of the economy’. This should surely be a matter of personal choice and conviction; it is certainly not something that necessarily would command the support of the majority of people in society. What is particularly troubling about these kinds of additions is that they do not appear to have been through the same process of consultation that the original values had. They are also another indication of the way that government has tried to strengthen its control of the school curriculum.
The aims of the National Curriculum should of course be reflected at all levels of the curriculum including the programmes of study, which are the vehicle for delivering the aims. White6 found that, broadly speaking, the best match between subjects and the National Curriculum aims was with newly introduced subjects such as design and technology, ICT, citizenship and PSHE. Longer established subjects matched much less well with the aims of the National Curriculum.
The Foundation Stage doesn’t have an explicit statement of values, although the Themes and Principles are similar:
The EYFS is based around four Themes:
• A Unique Child
• Positive Relationships
• Enabling Environments
• Learning and Development.
Each Theme is linked to an important Principle:
A Unique Child
• Every child is a competent learner from birth who can be resilient, capable, confident and self-assured.
• Children learn to be strong and independent from a base of loving and secure relationships with parents and/or a key person.
• The environment plays a key role in supporting and extending children’s development and learning.
Learning and Development
• Children develop and learn in different ways and at different rates, and all areas of Learning and Development are equally important and interconnected.
The value that is missing from this list, when compared with the National Curriculum, is Society. This is particularly surprising in view of the explicit inclusion of points about families as part of this value statement.
At other levels, aims will express less generality. Such will form the basis of curricula (e.g. ‘To achieve certain specified standards in the skills of reading and writing’). Unlike the more general aims noted above, they will suggest tangible achievements and imply rather more specified time limits. They are often statements of what can be expected to have been achieved at given stages over the formal educational period. There is a relationship between the degree of generality expressed in an aim and the time limit within which it can be expected to have been achieved. It may be expressed thus: the more general the aim, the more difficult to specify when it will be achieved, or, conversely, the less general the aim, the greater the likelihood of its being achieved within definable and predictable time limits. Thus, ‘To prepare children to meet the challenges of a technological age’ could only be achieved at some time in the relatively distant future; one could not be any more specific than that. The aim ‘To be able to decode the words and comprehend the meaning of age appropriate texts’, however, could, conceivably, be achieved by, at the latest, the age of 6.
This relationship has very real and practical implications for the student teacher on teaching practice. Since she is only in school for a comparatively short time (four, six, eight or ten weeks, depending on the college or university and the particular school placement), the aims that will form the basis of her schemes of work may be even less general than some of the aims referred to above.
The relevance of aims for the student teacher is that they make up one of the major sources from which lesson objectives are derived; and it is essential to understand the relationship between aims and objectives, and between schemes of work and the individual lessons to be taught.
In conclusion, you may find the following checklist useful when formulating aims for schemes of work:
• Does the aim express the appropriate level of generality?
• Is it expressed simply, clearly and economically?
• Does its content relate to the ability and previous experience of the class?
• Can appropriate lesson objectives and intended learning outcomes be derived naturally from it?
• Is it attainable in relation to the facilities and time available?