Co-op Best Practices > Learning Objectives - Maximizing the Learning on a Workterm

Learning Objectives - Maximizing the Learning on a Workterm

posted on June 1, 1997

If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound? If students learn on a workterm, but they don’t know what they have learned, has learning occurred?

To ensure the learning that occurs on a students workterm is recognized by all the stakeholders, UVic has incorporated having students write and evaluate learning objectives in our Employer/Student Evaluation forms. This process provides a number of benefits:

  • Employers who have worked with students who use learning objectives appreciate the organization and direction that it provides for the co-op student. It shows that students are serious about learning during the workterm.
  • Learning objectives can give direction to what students learn during their workterm. They can help students get more out of their co-op experience and allow students to focus on their career goals.
  • Learning objectives provide students with a listing (a portfolio) of documented learning outcomes resulting from their workterm experience. This also helps give their Co-op experience more academic integrity by providing documentation of learning outcomes.

What are learning objectives?

A learning objective is a written statement describing measurable achievements students hope to accomplish during their workterm experience. For example:

‘By July 4th, I will devise, print and post a safety check sheet, following Federal Government guidelines, which will make safety information readily available to all staff members. I will have this safety check sheet evaluated by my supervisor for accuracy prior to posting.’

Why use learning objectives?

The student’s goal for each workterm should be to maximize the opportunity and then be able to document what they have learned as a result of their participation in the Co-op program. To assist students in accomplishing this goal, it is recommended that students develop specific and measurable learning objectives for each of their Co-op workterms. By preparing learning objectives students are declaring their intentions to document their learning outcomes for the workterm and to accomplish these objectives in a satisfactory manner.

Some workterm assignments may lend themselves to easily written objectives, but learning objectives can be written for every workterm. The major idea behind setting objectives is not to control every moment of the Co-op experience, but to set a direction or agenda for the workterm.

How do you implement learning objectives?

The easiest way to incorporate learning objectives into the co-op workterm is to incorporate them into the employer/student evaluation form.

The Employer/Student Evaluation Form should have 3 sections:

Section 1: With the supervisor, during the first week of the workterm, the student develops the learning objectives for the workterm, following the model described later in this report. The learning objectives which students develop should:

  • relate directly to their job assignment, and
  • represent the job functions and duties students will be performing during their co-op workterm.

Section 2: With the supervisor, midway through the workterm, the student evaluates the learning objectives, documenting any factors that may affect the achievement of the objectives. If needed, the objectives may be revised or updated. Coordinators normally review the objectives during the work site visit.

Section 3: With the supervisor, during the last week of the workterm, the student evaluates the learning objectives against the set measurable goals. Again, any factors that affected the achievement of the objectives is documented.

These evaluations are returned to the Co-op office for review by the co-op coordinator.

The learning objectives that students develop for each Co-op workterm should be realistic and achievable within the time frame of their workterm assignment. Also, the objectives should be as specific as possible, so that they can be measured at the end of the workterm experience. There is no magic number of learning objectives that should be developed for each workterm, but a good guideline would be for students to develop from 5 to 8 objectives for each workterm.

How do you write learning objectives?

Writing SMART learning objectives is relatively easy. Smart objectives are:

S pecific
M easurable
A chievable
R ealistic, and
T ruthful.

For each learning objective students have, make sure it answers the following four questions:

What is the task to be accomplished?
How will it be accomplished?
How will it be measured/evaluated and by whom?
When will it be completed?

Learning Objective - Bad Form: “I will learn to use a word processor.”

Learning Objective - Good Form: “By August 15th, I will be able to execute Microsoft Word on a Macintosh computer incorporating advanced editing capabilities. I will attend a 2-day seminar on Microsoft Word and complete my workterm report using the program for evaluation by my coordinator.”

What are the types of learning objectives?

Learning objectives fall into two main categories:

Personal - include developing or improving interpersonal, communication or other social skills that allow students to work more effectively.

For example: ‘By the end of my workterm (when), I will develop better listening skills (what) by practicing reflective questioning techniques (how) and I will submit a diary of these experiences to my supervisor for his/her evaluation (evaluation).’

Professional - include objectives aimed at practicing or improving a skill, learning a new task, solving a specific problem with measurable results or other professional objectives that would enable students to improve their work performance. For example:

‘By July 1st (when), I will give a presentation to a group of at least ten people using a microphone and overheads (what). I will follow the guidelines outlined in the manual “Effective Presentations” (how) and will ask each participant to evaluate the presentation for clarity, style and message (evaluation).’