Let’s Get Explicit: Writing Intentional Learning Objectives in the Sexuality Classroom

objectives1Author: Sukriti K. Dabral

If you had to defend the value of a sexuality education program, and had to defend your own competence as a sexuality educator, what would you say?  How would you show administrators and students that you know what you’re doing?  The key to convincing others is first assuring ourselves, isn’t it?  Spelling out a clear plan for ourselves is key to being a great educator.  According to Bruess and Schroeder (2014), writing goals and explicit (no pun intended) learning objectives is the most important piece of planning sexuality education.  When we’re intentional with the choices we make in the classroom, we’re thoughtful about writing general learning goals.  Being explicit about how we will achieve those goals, and how we will assess the actual impact we’re had on learners makes for effective education, and not just a lazy “things must have gone well just because everyone had fun” attitude.

The onus is on us to take responsibility for students’ learning, and not just whether they had fun in our classroom (though of course that’s important, too!).  Explicit objectives help us to stay focused on our goals for learning.  For example, if the goal for a lesson is, “Students will know how human reproduction occurs.” All of the learning objectives for a lesson with this goal must then explicitly describe how the process of learning should go, and then provide ways to measure the learning that actually happened.

Blooms taxonomy

One formula for writing explicit objective, which contain all of the above, uses four parts: behavior, learning, condition, and performance (E. Schroeder, personal communication, September 21, 2014).

Because the example given is a cognitive goal, the behavior component would be well served to use an action word from Bloom’s Taxonomy, like “to learn,” “to explain,” “to design,” etc. (Estes, Mintz, & Gunter, 2011).  It’s a verb that describes what the learners will be expected to be able to do with the content they are learning.  If our general goal is to make sure students learn about reproduction, it makes sense to have a lesson about anatomy.  A specific objective statement about just recognizing the parts of female and male reproductive systems might begin with:

“Students will be able to identify.”

What the students will identify is the next component of a well-written objective. Learning describes what the educator intends for students to gain or, the actual content of the change occurring in the brains of learners, as Piaget described (Hedgepeth & Helmich, 1996).  In this case, the learning is about introducing information about body parts:

“Students will be able to identify major components of human reproductive anatomy.

This is often where educators stop when writing learning objectives.  But in order to write explicit learning objectives, two elements are missing.  The condition is the element that describes how the educator will facilitate the specific learning in question.  This is where we can plug in our favorite activities, but only if they actually fulfill the goals of a lesson.  If they don’t, the process of getting explicit helps us to know how we can tweak and edit activities to suit our current needs.  For example, maybe we have a lot of visual learners, and would like to use a coloring worksheet, and the one we already have includes only outlines of the parts, and nothing else.  For the purpose of getting students to identify those parts, as stated in our objective so far, we would need to edit the sheet, perhaps by adding a word bank with organ names, and spaces to label the parts along with coloring them.  Our explicit statement might now look like this:

 “Students will be able to identify major components of human reproductive anatomy by coloring and labeling an anatomy worksheet.

Last is the performance element.  This is the most useful component for sexuality educators to be explicit about, because it explains how we will assess whether the intended learning actually happened or not.  It spells out the relationship between goals and actual outcomes.  Our example so far promises how students will identify anatomy through our intervention, but not how accurately.  Both of the following examples work, depending on the educator’s intentions for learning.

Students will be able to identify major components of human reproductive anatomy by coloring and labeling an anatomy worksheet correctly.”

Students will be able to identify major components of human reproductive anatomy by coloring and labeling an anatomy worksheet at least 80% correctly.”

It’s important to note that this example was about a cognitive goal.  Affective and motor-sensory goals require slightly different language, but the same intentionality (Estes, Mintz, & Gunter, 2011).  For an affective goal about values clarification regarding sexual orientation, an explicit statement might look like the following:

Students will be able to clarify their own attitudes regarding the spectrum of sexual orientations by writing journal entries in response to provided prompts.

In the case of affective learning, students are asked to know something about their own feelings, attitudes and values, so the performance piece should reflect this.  The performance piece is simply written as “their own” in the example, but these words code for an awareness of students’ own affective experiences.  Thus, something like a guided journaling activity would be appropriate.

For a psychomotor goal, where the learner is expected to actually physically do something like correctly apply a condom in a pressurized situation, the activity and performance pieces must address these, and must be observable in the classroom.  The following example would work in this case, because the chosen activity involves students physically labeling and doing the actual motions of putting a condom on a phallus, in the context of stress, because it’s a race.

Students will be able to demonstrate application of a condom to a phallus, under pressure, by successfully completing each step in a condom relay activity.

It would be ineffective for students to experience a lecture regarding condom use, if the goal is to make sure they could physically put a condom on something penis-like, under pressure.  If the goal is to make sure students knew how to put on a condom, then perhaps a lecture followed by a written exam would suffice.  Or, perhaps we’d choose to do both, but these types of choices always depend on the larger goals of our intervention, as well as how much time we get to have with students.

When writing learning objectives, let’s remember: behavior (action verb), learning (content), condition (how?), and performance (how well/measurement) Let’s be explicit about how we plan to achieve our goals, and how we measure our achievements so that critics will thank us, alongside students.  The examples I gave are in no way exhaustive, but hopefully illustrate the usefulness of writing objectives carefully.  For me, the process of choosing the right words and making sure all the pieces are there is helpful for seeing the limits of certain types of activities, but also for clarifying what I’m actually trying to accomplish, in general.  The process leaves me feeling more aware of the teaching I’m doing, and more confident that I’m going to have an effective impact on students’ learning.

Editor’s Note: Using learning, behavior, condition and performance when creating effective learning objectives was created by Dr. Konnie McCaffree. It’s a pleasure to pass on her wisdom! – E. Schroeder



Bruess, C.E., & Schroeder, E. (2014). Sexuality education: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

Estes, T.H., Mintz, S.L., & Gunter, M.A. (2011). Instruction: A models approach (6th ed.).  Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Hedgepeth, E., & Helmich, J. (1996). Teaching about sexuality and HIV: Principles and methods for effective education. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Okabe, M., & Ito, K. (2008). Color universal design (CUD): How to make figures and presentations that are friendly to colorblind people. Retrieved from http://jfly.iam.u-tokyo.ac.jp/color/

17 responses to “Let’s Get Explicit: Writing Intentional Learning Objectives in the Sexuality Classroom

  1. Sukriti,

    Excellent work. You did a great job explaining [what can often be] a confusing concept in a logical, coherent manner. I liked how you stressed the importance of the performance aspect in sexuality education, particularly because it indicates whether or not learning actually took place, i.e., if they cannot label the worksheet correctly, they might not have learned the major components of human reproductive anatomy. The examples that you provided were a helpful way to understand how explicit learning objectives could be applied practically in the classroom.

    Lastly, I appreciated how you also touched on the theory of Multiple Intelligences (like in the example you gave of an activity that would work for a visual learner). Your last objective, ““Students will be able to demonstrate application of a condom to a phallus, under pressure, by successfully completing each step in a condom relay activity” actually could address the needs of a kinesthetic, interpersonal, and logical learner! Kinesthetic learners would be using their body to engage in the learning material, interpersonal learners would engage in an activity that requires teamwork and interaction with others as a way to learn, and condom application, when seen as a step-by-step process of getting from a to b to c touches on the needs of the logical learner. Thank you for writing this, Sukriti—it really encourages us to be more intentional about how we write goals and objectives, and more aware of what we can do as educators to impact learning.

    • Thanks, Sarah! I haven’t commented yet on your piece about multiple intelligences, but I’d read it before I wrote this, so I’m glad you caught the influence you had on me! 🙂

  2. Sukriti,

    WOW! I was sitting on my sofa, ready to read and have my beef taco and you stopped my chewing right in your introduction. How reaffirming you are about how we should esteem ourselves and the value of our work as sexual health educators.”The key to convincing others is first assuring ourselves, isn’t it? ” YES IT IS. What a powerful question. This is a question we must diligently ask ourselves before venturing into the curriculum and lessons we develop.
    I can think of too many times someone has challenged what I do as a living or recall the sterile faces when I announce that I am a sex health educator. I always have to remind myself not to display defensiveness but celebrate what I do in a manner that I am reassuring others insecurities about such sensitive topics.
    Developing a strong ability to create strong objectives will help ensure that I am not only teaching but creating a learning experience that will encourage others to value my initiatives.

    The color coding you exemplified through this article lit my brain up. I could identify all the moving parts of the vehicle we know as objectives. It was a very affective way to examine the mechanics of creating our objectives. The performance components that you discuss also reminds me how important it is for our audiences to perform out our objectives. Too many times have I witnessed other facilitators with marginal objectives if any not truly examine or care whether their students learned something. That is and will be the difference between a well-seasoned educator and those who are just teaching and not creating an environment of understanding and development. Thanks Again Sukriti!


    • Frenchie, thanks for your affirmation of my main point about intentionality! I look forward to stopping mid-chew when I read your post, too 🙂

  3. Sukriti,
    This blog was well written and your example and break down of how to write and implement a lesson plan is so detailed that it can help explain the steps teachers should take in order to write a well round and well balanced lesson plan. I love how you used examples to make your point about the various types of goals and how each should be implemented and measured within the lesson plan. You have done a well job with your blog. Thank You and great job.

  4. Excellent job on this topic. From my work in schools, I’ve seen objective-writing frequently devalued by teachers, but in reality it is SO important. Objectives can help you have a clear focus and to be able to assess if students learned what you had in mind. I love that you mention the different domains of learning including affective and psychomotor. I particularly like this website: because it not only provides lists of verbs at all six levels of Bloom’s taxonomy for easy sequencing when writing objectives, but it does this for the cognitive, affective, AND psychomotor domains.
    I also love that you related this objective-writing formula to differentiation and adaptation by saying that the “condition”part of the formula might be, for example, geared toward visual learners by meeting the objective through a coloring and labeling worksheet. It is great to point out that objectives can be specific and can be differentiated or adapted depending on the different kinds of learners you’re working with. This was helpful!

  5. Great job in explaining in detail how to write clear and explicit objectives. This can get very confusing which then the lessons we teach reflect that. It is a lot of pressure being an educator to be entertaining, addressing everyone needs, making sure you stay on schedule, etc etc. Being able to write clear objectives that can be followed is a start to make this pressure decrease because you know what you are getting yourself into and have to accomplish. I appreciate you making a distinction between affective and cognitive objectives. Writing objectives is pretty complicated but not with this method and concise explanation.

    • Nicole, you are so right about the pressures of being in charge as an educator! Getting myself to understand this method of writing objectives makes me feel like I’ll always have a solid game plan to refer to, even if I’m having to tweak things and adapt in the moment. Glad you found my explanation useful, too 🙂

  6. I agree that our first priority in writing clear learning objectives should be intentionality in our teaching. This shows that we respect our students’ time and efforts and also that we can back up our own pedagogy/androgogy (i.e. that we respect ourselves). But the third piece is also important. Over the past two decades, the ranks of educational administration have increasingly been filled by people with neither real-world educational experience nor education degrees. Administrators are often fluent in the language of outcomes and assessment, but they might also come from business administration backgrounds and/or have a desire to apply the language of assessment in punitive and/or proscriptive ways.

    We must be aware of this trend, and to some extent we must conform to it (after all, we need jobs), but we also must fulfill our duties as educators first and foremost. Using the language and central tenets of assessment in student-centered ways is key. We mustn’t allow outcomes to strangle us, however. Learning how to craft them well, and to do so autonomously, as Sukriti has suggested here, is a step in the right direction.

    • Thanks for your comment, Alex. Having had no real-world experience teaching under/for school administrations, I appreciate your insights. It will be useful for me to remember that, even while I’m spelling out detailed intentions for myself as an educator, that I may well need to use a separate language and style when writing curricula/syllabi for review by administrations/boards, etc.

  7. I love how you break this down in colors! If only I had done something similar in class…

    Actually learning about and practicing objectives has changed my entire view of them. When I would see them listed in a class syllabus I disregarded them, seeing them as unimportant, mumbo jumbo. However, I now think having all of the components you gave examples of (behavior, learning, condition, experience) is a must! And as you said, we must convince ourselves first, which is one of the most useful parts of objectives for me. It guides me-giving me structure and aim in my approach. Thanks for the lovely refresher!

  8. Thank you for writing this out, and using the different colors. I did not know about the practice of Color Universal Design. I should look in to that website.

    I’ll be using this as a guide for my lesson plan.

  9. Wow- I thought this was a fantastic post! I am quite new to the education field, so this past year has brought me my first experiences of writing goals and objectives for lessons. The post is very informative, and the full-out explanation for writing an explicit objective is so helpful for me. I feel like prior to reading this, I would hit the behavior and learning portion of the objective, but miss the condition and performance parts. Now, I’m going to be more cognizant when creating objectives and try to be very explicit and include those how and how well/measurement components. Writing objectives like this really hones in on exactly what the learner needs to be getting out of the lesson. I also appreciated that you color coded the different components, so it was clear which piece of the statement fit with the separate components. Your post was clear and concise, and I’m definitely going to make an effort to be more explicit with my objectives!

  10. Pingback: Writing Goals And Objectives. Go Ahead - Dream!·

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