Learning Community

What’s A Learning Subjective? #Rhizo15

In the first course week of #Rhizo15 Dave asked us to define our learning subjectives, specifically:

  • How do we design our own or others learning when we don’t know where we are going?
  • How does that free us up?
  • What can we get done with subjectives that can’t be done with objectives?

After reading a the follow-up blog post & the list of #Rhizo15 Week 1 blog posts (Thanks, @Lenandlar) prompted me to respond. Learning is uncertain, and happens at the rarest moment.

As an educator, we get caught up with the standard Learning Objective slant for teaching and learning. Learning objectives (sometimes referred to as intended learning outcomes or course-specific goals) are clear statements to describe the competencies learners should possess upon completion of a course (Simon & Taylor, 2009; Harder, 2002; Kennedy, 2007). An effective learning objective identifies what a student would know and be able to demonstrate along with the depth of learning expected from the curriculum.

With #Rhizo15 the lack of learning objectives provides a lot of freedom to explore ideas, connect to meaning, and identify new ways of knowing. I think a learning subjective is when students are encouraged to make their own learning personal. I felt bad for a delayed blog post on this topic — but then I remembered — being subjective means individualizing and customizing my own way to learn. Subjective learning allows for more preference and flexibility, which provides dynamic ways to engage in uncertain patterns and developments from within a course. Learning objectives provide well-defined outcomes and intentions for learning. The openness of learning subjectives provides opportunities for students to drive the course agenda and direct their interests for topics. For some teachers and students, learning subjectives might place education out of its comfort zone to consider what a curriculum could be if defined by all those involved. I think

For many teachers and students, learning subjectives might place all outside of our educational comfort zones. Consider what your course and curriculum would be like if you showed up to class on the first day and asked everyone in the room to design & be a participant in your course? Bring on the blank stares. I suspect many students would walk out of the room or drop your online class. Not for the ability or empowerment of being part of the learning design process, but more out of the fear of the unknown. I think Tania‘s metaphor explained it best: a jigsaw puzzle. This daunting task of figure out where to put the pieces together for ambiguous learning is complicated and requires a lot of work. Are you ready to commit for this complicated and multi-layered task? Am I? Who knows? But I am willing to give it a try. [If I am overwhelmed by the #rhizo15 learning swarm – I always have Keith to ask. :)]

My learning subjective for #Rhizo15 will be en par with how I prefer to travel, e.g. backpacking across Europe. Travel light. Show up to the airport or train station. Select a random place to go. Identify a few things I might see or do. Be open to new adventures and experiences. Sure. I might get lost or not know the language – but I will figure it out or it will be an experience at least. The not knowing what is ahead is okay. I will find the way with others, as there are a number of locals and travelers I can have a chat with. Only memories (a few photos & blog posts) and connections will follow me home as souvenirs.

me & parliament#TBT from 2006 London – {Note To Self: I need to digitize my earlier travel photogs.}

I am looking forward to bumping into a few #Rhizo15 friends as I travel through this course. My learning pack is ready, and I want to explore. Some of you I will see soon (in person), others online, and then — who knows — I might even travel to a location near YOU soon (get your guest room or couch ready)! For now, I look forward to our learning travels online. Stay in touch!


Harden, R. M. (2002). Learning outcomes and instructional objectives: Is there a difference?. Medical teacher, 24(2), 151-155.

Kennedy, D. (2007). Writing and using learning outcomes: a practical guide. Cork, Ireland: University College Cork.

Simon, B., & Taylor, J. (2009). What is the value of course-specific learning goals. Journal of College Science Teaching, 39(2), 52-57.

12 thoughts on “What’s A Learning Subjective? #Rhizo15”

  1. I read this and told me husband “that is how I want to see Europe!” … You have now inspired us … not sure when we will do it (we are living on the wrong coast right now) … but alas, when we are ready to explore Europe, we shall arrive somewhere and allow fate to determine where we will go … showing up at train stations and getting on the first or maybe third train to depart … sounds like a lot of fun.


    1. YES! Have a few basic ideas and places to go, but really just go. I would be happy to chat more when you arrive to Dallas for #et4online. 🙂


  2. Laura –
    I love your carefree spirit. I remember traveling on a whim and moving to Texas with only a backpack at 24 years old. Then there were children, 4 of them and they changed the way I move around from a logistics perspective. This was only decision point #1. When you have 4 children, flying is pretty much out from a budgeting standpoint. So, then there is the vehicle… We had a large enough vehicle for a road trip twice.

    The subjectives of the carefree travel were gone at this point and we relied on the objectives to help us down the path with the car full. Many learning questions were answered. Are we hungry? Did the car need gas? How many more miles until we get there? Did we see the entire DisneyWorld park? Are you tired? Why are you crying? Are you dehydrated? Did you see Mickey Mouse honey? Did anyone’s feet hurt? Did we need a stroller? Do we need to turn this car around right now?

    However, as my children are getting older (2 are already out of the house and in college) we are reflecting on those objectives and realizing how powerful they were to our learning as parents. While they pushed us through the knowledge acquisition phase, they helped us achieve a status where the last two kids are living at home in the world of the subjectives!

    This transition from objectives to subjectives in parenthood reminds me of the transition of objectives to subjectives in my own learning and schooling. I’m certainly grabbing the “bull by the horns” in my adulthood more so than I was able to or allowed to in my earlier days.


    1. Hey — you know what — I think a good random road trip is also fun. I did one last summer http://souvenirsofcanada.blogspot.com/2014/07/howispentmysummer-day-1-take-road-trip.html and I plan on tackling another one in a few months. 🙂

      I think the break from the required to the unknown for learning and life is a challenge. You have to learn how to trust your instincts and be present. It’s not a bad thing to rely on. An overall idea or plan is good, but be open to where it might divert you along the way.


  3. Great post, Laura.

    I have been doing a lot of thinking about this learning subjectives notion, and have blogged about it a couple times as I continue to process it. Considering learning objectives, I am not really sure they are so much for the learner as they are for the department to have a sense of what the instructor will do in the course. Most of my students rarely look at the learning objectives, and quite honestly, why should they? They trust in the process and often are required to take the course anyway. For those of whom do, learning objectives often do not make sense without a knowledge of the subject matter anyway, so they often are not even understandable to learners who have not yet explored (mastered?) the content.

    Hmm, I sense another blog post coming along here . . .


    1. I look forward to reading your follow up blog post to this… and how you answer these questions. Great food for thought on our learners experiences with objectives and courses. Thanks, Jeffrey.


  4. Love this post, Laura. I bike tour in Europe when I can and the stories I tell long afterwards are always about the days when nothing went as we’d thought and we had to figure out an entirely different way to get where we wanted to go — and then went somewhere else completely.

    I am so conscious that many of my students experience their courses are something far far different from adventure travel, and I am working so hard to provide the safety for them to explore while also honoring their lives where the stakes for failing might be high.

    It will be great to learn with you here in these next weeks.



  5. Hi Laura! So great to meet you recently.

    I was thinking about your imaginary scenario: we walk into a classroom (virtual or F2F) and ask our students to have the kind of experience we’re having in this course right now: what would happen? I expect many would not be happy. And sure, it’s partly the fear of the unknown, but also the fact that their grades in our courses matter to them and their lives. I almost feel like (though I have to think about it further) that it could be an ethically questionable thing to do, to not give our students at least some structure, expectations, sense of what they might get out of a course, when a good deal is riding on what they do and (more importantly) how they are evaluated. This open online course, done out of interest and with no other stakes than pure learning, is a very different situation than most of what I as a faculty member teach! I’m happy to have the freedom to move, to choose to do what I want, to make my own goals in this course. I think, if an evaluation of me that affected my career rested on a course where I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing, so wasn’t sure what my evaluation rested on, it would be quite a different story.

    A blog post about this has been brewing in my head; attendance at this week’s conference has kept me from posting it yet!

    I look forward to connecting with you more in this course and elsewhere online!


    1. Such a treat to meet up with you at #et4online! Thank you for coming. 🙂

      I like this idea — of being open and considering what our learners would like to gain from this course. At the beginning of each semester, I ask my students why they are taking my class and what they hope to learn or get out of the course in my student information sheet. I also inquire about their own learning/career background or goals — as most of my students work full time as well. e.g. from one of my classes => LTEC 4440/ATTD 5440 Course Spring 2015: Student Information Form http://bit.ly/1Otemok

      Answers are varied and always interesting. The student info forms help inform course design, assessments, assignments, and learning materials. I also like to share what other students are studying, interested in or working on based on these responses. I should probably write a blog post about this after I am caught up with things after last week. I look forward to reading your blog post — and continuing these conversations about learning. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.