Writing Measurable Objectives

Writing measurable objectives can, to say the least, be a challenge. In this article,  I’ll define what a measurable objective is, pointers for writing powerful, measurable objectives and common mistakes to avoid.

What is an Objective?

An objective is a clear statement that communicates what knowledge, skills or attitudes (SKA) are covered in the instructional material; what facilitators are expected to teach and what the students are expected learn.

Impacts on the Development and Learning Process

Well written objectives are central to every part of the learning process.  Every player in the process is impacted by well written, measurable objectives:

1. Instructional Designers.  Objectives guide designers through the content development.  They keep content focused on what the designer wants to achieve.  If the content is not tied to an objective, then it should not be in the learning material.

2. Facilitators.  Well written objectives provide essential guidance to facilitators.  Objectives provide the instructional goals.

3.  Students.  Objectives communicate to students exactly what they need to learn and will be held accountable.

Measurement Closes the Loop

Assessments measure how well the students met the learning objectives.  Measurement also provides important feedback to facilitators and instructional designers.  The results of assessments allow designers to judge how well their learning material is meeting objectives.   For example, if learners are consistently failing an exam or question set, perhaps the objectives or learning material is not well written.  For facilitators, measurement might point to a deficiency in their own understanding of the material.  With measurement data in hand, designers can make adjustments to their materials in order to improve learning outcomes.

Writing Measurable Objectives

First, it must be noted that one must consider one’s audience.  Advanced material must not be included before prerequisite knowledge is covered.

While there are several excellent approaches to writing objectives.  I prefer one developed by Mager (Preparing Instructional Objectives: A Critical Tool in the Development of Effective Instruction (1997).

1. Performance.  An objective always states what a learner is expected to be able to do and/or produce to be considered competent.

2. Conditions. An objective describes the important conditions (if any) under which the performance is to occur.

3. Criterion. An objective describes the criteria of acceptable performance; that is, it says how well someone would have to perform to be considered competent.


Using the Mager approach, objectives are clearly written and measurable. They are clear in that the learner knows how they will be measure (condition), what he/she must do (performance) and how well he/she must do it (criterion).  The objectives are measurable in that the criterion clearly states the performance level that must be achieved.  When analyzing measurement data, the criterion communicates to the designer how well the objective was met across a data set of learner responses.

The Two Forbidden Words

It is such a temptation to use the terms “know” and “understand” but these terms cannot be measured.  Never, never use these terms in objectives.

Web Resources

Mager’s Approach to Writing Objectives

Summary of Approaches to Writing Objectives

Action Verbs for Writing Objectives(PDF)