Writing Affective Objectives

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The affective learning taxonomy is one that is often overlooked in our traditional educational models, and yet is absolutely essential to accomplishing our long-range goals of life transformation and ministry competence. Since the time of the enlightenment, formal education has increasingly become preoccupied with a focus on cognition over and above behavior and affect. Thus today, one practical reason why we tend to ignore the affective domain in our teaching and learning is that contemporary accreditation requirements specify that our learning goals must be measurable. We recognize that a person’s character, inner thoughts, or value system cannot be quantified in the same way that cognitive demonstrations of learning can.

In his book Transforming Theological Education, Perry Shaw admonishes us as theological educators noting our common failure to influence affective learning in the hearts and minds of our students. He goes on to highlight the strong biblical imperatives of developing Christian character, attitudes, values, and healthy relationships above the priority of articulating what it is that we know. In addition, Shaw highlights some of the growing research on affective learning which suggests a strong correlation between a learner’s emotions and strength of motivation with the depth of their learning. Furthermore, he addresses modern brain research, which clearly connects affective learning with long-term memory and life transformation [1].

So, how might we influence a student’s motivation, values, and character development in our courses? Take a look at Horizon’s revised affective taxonomy (below), which was originally developed by Krathwohl, Bloom, and Masia [2]. As with the other learning taxonomies, these levels of affective learning depict progress from simple to complex or toward higher levels of affective learning.

AFFECTIVE: Receive: pay attention, willing to hear (ask, describe, identify, select, follow) / Respond: listen and react, willing to respond (discuss, practice, answer, comply, present) / Value: accept, commit, internalize a set of values (demonstrate, initiate, join, propose, share) / Prioritize: organize values into priorities, create a new value system (synthesize, formulate, adhere, defend, compare) / Internalize: behave according to value system consistently and characteristically (integrate, discriminate, perform, influence, habituate). Adapted from Krathwohl, Bloom, & Masia, 1973.

We would like to conclude this post with a final thought. Typically, accreditation standards require our formal course objectives to be measurable. And yet the idea of measurement can be misleading in that it assumes that we can in fact quantify all aspects of learning. We understand the importance of institutions needing to vouch for the standards of learning evidenced by their students. However, we believe that we must also rely on the wisdom of godly leaders whose consensus about ministry preparation is essential. This is especially true in the affective learning domain. So we prefer to think about evidence rather than measurement, especially in the affective domain of learning.

Let’s consider an example. One affective goal we might have is that our students begin to value (category 3 above) biblical stewardship in their work or ministry. We might create a learning activity or formal assessment around creating a personal or church budget. With this in mind, we would ask ourselves what biblical stewardship looks like so that we might accurately assess whether our students are in fact beginning to value this biblical priority. In answering this question, we likely would come to the conclusion that this internal quality can, in fact, look quite different in different people. In addition, we would likely recognize that this internal quality can only truly be demonstrated over a lengthier span of ministry rather than in a single course. Finally, we would likely conclude that it is impossible to quantify this spiritual quality such that we might actually assign a “godly stewardship grade” to our students. In fact, we would argue that doing so might unintentionally focus on a student’s external behavior, leading toward legalistic understandings of biblical stewardship. However, in thinking about what evidence might demonstrate that a student has begun to internalize a value for this biblical quality via our learning task of creating a budget, we might envision several places where we might engage our students’ hearts. Here are three examples of the kinds of evidence we might expect to see demonstrated by students who successfully achieve this affective goal:

  1. Students might demonstrate their desire to be faithful to God and compassionate towards others by the budget categories they choose. Thus, we could engage our students in dialogue around their budget categories or perhaps via a required reflection on why students chose to organize their budget in the way they did.
  2. Students might demonstrate the value they place on biblical stewardship by the tone in which they write a defense of their budget plan. Do they display a sense of dependence on God, that these are really his resources along with a sense of responsibility to act faithfully?
  3. Students might demonstrate their value of this spiritual quality by whether or not—and to what extent—they are receptive to our (or their peers’) constructive criticism related to their plan. Do students display a sense of humility in their willingness to receive the constructive criticisms of others?

As you consider your online course design, how might you use this taxonomy to help students internalize a biblical values system that evidences authentic life transformation?

[1] Perry Shaw, Transforming Theological Education: A Practical Handbook for Integrative Learning (Carlisle, UK: Langham Global Library, 2014).

[2] David R. Krathwohl, Benjamin S. Bloom, and Bertram B. Masia, Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, the Classification of Educational Goals. Handbook II: Affective Domain (New York: David McKay Co., Inc., 1973).

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