Objectives over Time: A Look at Four Decades of Objectives in the Educational Research Literature


While the concept of objectives is widely used in many applied fields of instruction, the systematic derivation and application of objectives for learning and instruction is a key feature of systematic instructional design. However, the treatment of objectives and the terminology surrounding them is sometimes nebulously employed. This article takes a historical look at the terminology around objectives used in the research literature to track changes over time. Data base searchers were conducted using Academic Search Complete, Education Research Complete, and ERIC to identify various terms using nine different objective related terms. Searches were limited to peer-reviewed sources, and restricted by date to include only the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s respectively. Results show that terms with more concrete definitions, such as behavioral objectives, have fallen off markedly, while terms with more operational definitions, such as educational objectives or learning objectives, have gained in currency. Implications for the field of instructional design are discussed.