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Teaching & Learning

Aims, Objectives & Intending Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

Great teaching starts with Aims, Objectives & ILOs

I believe that one of the key ingredients to a successfully great tutorial or educational session is having some Aims and Intended Learning Outcomes. 

An Aim is an overview of what you are trying to do.   Here’s an example for GP training.

  • “I want to provide a tutorial on Sexual Health”

The Intended Learning Outcomes  (ILOs) are the specific  learning things you want your learners to take home with them. Hence the words  intended and learning outcomes.    ILO is the new term for the term Objectives.   Lot’s of people get muddled between Aims and Objectives and the words Intending Learning Outcomes makes it more clear.  In the sexual health tutorial above, your ILOs might be

  • I want my learners to know how to take a Sexual History
  • I want my learners to know how to do a Clinical Examination
  • I want my learners to remember some of the key features of the COMMON sexual diseases

 

An Aim is a broad statement and that the ILOs are more specific.  Both are important.   The aims tell you what your ultimate destination is.  The ILOs tell you exactly how to get there.   Using a map as an analogy, the aim is like your destination (lets say Liverpool).   The ILOs will be the specific navigation points to get there.   On a journey, you need to know both your destination and how to get there.  In education, you need to know your ultimate AIM and the individual ILOs to get there.

Do we always need Aims & ILOs?

Some educators feel that you don’t always needs Aims and ILOs.  Especially for those sessions where the Aims and Objectives are identified through the process of the educational session itself.    For example, you may want to run a “free thinking” educational session where the content of the session is not predefined but is developed as part of the (say) small group learning.   To me though – that’s still developing Aims & ILOs – it’s just being done at a different point in the educational process rather than the traditional beginning.  And of course, that’s okay.

Other educationalists run totally free-style educational sessions – where no formal Aims and ILOs are developed.  Whatever comes up is what will be the subject matter if the rest of the group agree.   In these situations, even though you are not predefining the Aims and ILOs of the learners, you will still need to sit down and think before the session about what you are trying to do.  If you decide that “I don’t want to define anything.  Instead, I pose a question and then let the learners decide which direction to head and how to get there”, you are still, in part, developing the Aims of your session – which in this case, would be “to be learner centred” and to cover something they want to cover, not you”.   

The bottom line is you still need to sit down and think about the direction of your session and the steps to get there.  You might do it formally or more loosely, but you still need to do it.  

When you define your Aims and ILOs, everything becomes ten times easier

Like we said earlier, defining your Aims and ILOs is a bit like a map.  When you define your Aims and ILOs, you have then developed your map.  Once developed, you can now add on the “frilly” bits like shall we take the bus, the car or the train?   Shall we take a picnic and stop over somewhere.  In a similar way, in Education, once you have defined your Aims and ILOs for your teaching session, you can now decide

  • What’s the exact content I want to include?
  • What content can I leave out?
  • What methods shall I use to make it easier to understand, absorb, and apply the material
  • What methods can I use that are exciting and fun
  • What shall I ask in my Evaluation to check that the session met its needs.

All this becomes ten times easier because all you have to do is to reference it to the Aims and ILOs you have already developed.   The Aims and ILOs is the hardest part.  The rest is easy.

 

Ram's ACME method of planning any educational session

  1. Develop your AIMS & ILOs
  2. Then develop the CONTENT you will use in reference to the Aims and ILOs
  3. Then develop the educational METHODS you will use in reference to the Aims and ILOs
  4. And finally, work out what EVALUATION you will use in reference to the Aims and ILOs

This constant referencing or aligning to the Aims and ILOs is what is Biggs termed CONSTRUCTIVE ALIGNMENT.  You are constructively aligning the Content, Methods and Evaluation to the Aims and ILOs.  The principle is really dead simple.  Think about it for a minute.  If you wanted to (say) achieve “xxxx” by the end of today, afterwards wouldn’t you then make sure most of the things you do today are geared towards achieving “xxxx” and would you not periodically check that you were on track for achieving “xxxx”?

As an example, let’s go back to the earlier example of the Intended Learning Outcome: “how to take a sexual history”.  Now that I have developed this ILO, the rest becomes easy.   The content – will be the knowledge components of taking a good sexual history.  The method – I might give them a handout of the key components of a good Sexual History and go through this with them.  And furthermore, to make it exciting and fun and make sure they really learn the skill, I might split them into trios and give them a case to role play and practise with.   As for Evaluation, I might ask them on a scale of 1-10 how comfortable they now feel with taking a sexual history.  

 

Bloom's Taxonomy - another fundamental educational concept

Let me give you two ILOs and tell me which you think will have greater educational impact.   

  • Educational session 1 : “To educate the learner in Moticational Interviewing techniques”
  • Educational session 2: “To understand and practise some core Motivational Interviewing techniques”

Which is better?  Why?   Take a moment to think about it?

I hope you chose number 2.   Why is it better?  Because as a learner, you know EXACTLY what you’re going to get out of the session.   As a teacher, you know EXACTLY what to cover in the big field that is Motivational Interviewing.

So, what’s the difference?  Can you identify?

The difference is that the verbs are more actionable in the second.    In the first – what does “to educate” actually mean?   Is it to show a powerpoint slide and then you are done?   Is it to give a handout?  Or is it to go through it together one-by-one?  And is there any practise involved?   In the second one, we all know that to understand something means an element of imparting knowledge and going through each point to understand the class understands.    Practise is a clear action verb – that the group will no doubt be practising so that they acquire these Motivational Interviewing skills. 

So, who was Bloom and what is he all about?  Why is he so fundamental?

Bloom (an American educational psychologist 1913-1999) identified a set of action verbs that help refine our Intended Learning Outcomes in order to make them more explicit in what is going to be achieved in educationalterms.  This makes the educational process more clear to learners BUT also to us as teachers so that when we plan the rest of the educational session, we make sure that each bit of our session is hitting the mark.   He called these action verbs “educational objectives” and they are often referred to as Bloom’s Taxonomy in the education world.

Please leave a comment if you have a tip, spot an error, spot something missing or have a suggestion for a web resource.
And of course, if you have developed a resource of your own, please email it to me to share with others.

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