Terminal Learning Objective Details

Any course of instruction, whether practical or academic, should have a clear, final aim. A terminal learning objective is an explicit statement of what that aim is. When a course has a terminal learning objective, both students and instructors know what they are working towards from the beginning of the class. An institution or course designer can measure the success of a course of instruction by judging to what extent the terminal learning objective is met. There are many ways to assert a terminal learning objective, but one of the most common is: "By the end of this course, participants will be able to … ."

Having a terminal learning objective allows course designers to change aspects of a course if they judge that it has fallen short of its stated aim. Various questions may arise as a course designer makes her evaluation:

  • Has the course been successful?
  • Is the course too long or too short?
  • Does the content of the course adequately cover the demands of the terminal learning objective?
  • How effective is the instructor?
  • Are students asked to do too much or too little?
  • Should the course content be altered to achieve the terminal learning objective better?

A terminal learning objective can be applied to any course, whether it is a single class or runs for many months.

Terminal Learning Objective Example

Mega has bought a new software program designed to track deliveries of shipments from the time they leave the factory to their arrival at the customer's address. The new program is more sophisticated than the system it will replace and will require training for the employees who will use it. Twelve employees enroll in a two-week course which is to take place during the workday. Each day, participants will attend a two-hour class.

When the participants hear that they will be attending the course, they learn the terminal learning objective. By the end of the course, they will be able to use the new program to track deliveries in real-time, send notifications to customers, and correct any problems which might occur. At the end of the two weeks, an assessment of the participants evaluates how well they cope with a simulated situation. Mega discovers that only six of the twelve participants can deal with the simulation quickly and effectively. This result, although disappointing, allows Mega to evaluate the course in terms of the terminal learning objective. The course organizers decide that thorough learning to use the program will require more time in class and more practical examples. The instructor recommends introducing a series of enabling objectives.

Terminal Learning Objective vs. Enabling Objective

An enabling objective is an intermediary step on the way to the terminal learning objective. A participant in a course should understand an enabling objective before going on to the next stage. Setting enabling objectives allows participants and instructors to judge progress and can help in identifying areas that need more attention.

For example, a language learner might have the terminal learning objective of speaking Spanish fluently. To achieve her goal, she will find it helpful to have enabling objectives. The first of these might be "the use of the present tense" or "introducing yourself." As the learner comes to dominate each enabling objective, she approaches her terminal learning objective. She can identify areas that cause her the most difficulty and concentrate more effort on them.