learning target image

What is a learning target and why is it important?

learning target example

Image from North Branch Area Schools Instructional Resources Wiki

I belong to several professional organizations and receive some excellent journals, but often cannot read them cover to cover. When I get a new journal in the mail, I immediately read the table of contents and identify at least one article to read and tag it with a post-it. When I opened my March 2011 Educational Leadership from ASCD entitled, What Students Need to Learn, I dropped on my kitchen floor and started reading. The first article I read was Knowing Your Learning Target by Moss, Brookhart, and Long. Although I had been a teacher for decades, I felt that someone had finally verbalized and conceptualized what I had been doing (or been trying to do) in my classroom and explained it in a simple way. Since that day, I have been learning more about Learning Targets and using them in my practice and coaching.

Is Your Learning Target Effective? Can students explain what they need to KNOW, LEARN, DO and SHOW to be successful?
Students must understand what they are to know, understand, and be able to do BEFORE learning takes place! It is part of setting the purpose for learning and helps students focus on what is important in the reading/or lesson. Teachers need to reflect on what they want their students to KNOW, LEARN, DO and SHOW in order to plan and deliver effective instruction and learning opportunities.

What is a Learning Target?

A Learning Target is a statement of intended learning for students based on the standards. A Learning Target specifies and unpacks the objective and spells out what students will be able to do during and after the lesson or lesson series. Learning Targets are in student friendly language and are specific to the lesson for the day, or span of days, and directly connected to assessment. A learning target also includes performance criteria or a demonstration of learning.

Performance Criteria or Demonstration of Learning (DOL): The performance criteria for the activity, project, assignment, or process outlines what the student demonstrates to show the teacher the degree to which they understand and can do the Learning Target. The teacher can assess the DOL through observation, conferring, or evaluation using a rubric, checklist, or other criteria. Performance criteria can be demonstrated orally through conferring or presenting or in writing through a quiz, a project, a test, etc.

How is a Learning Target different that an Objective?

Learning Targets convey to students the destination for the lesson – what to learn, how deeply to learn it, and exactly how to demonstrate their new learning.
—Moss, Brookhart & Long, 2011
Objectives are for teachers; learning targets are for students. A lesson plan objective is a clear statement of purpose for the whole lesson that spells out what the teacher expects the students to be able to do after the lesson is completed and determines the activities the students engage in. The objective can be either a behavioral objective, which defines what the student can do at the end of the lesson, or a knowledge objective that defines what the student should know at the end of the lesson.

Why are Learning Targets Important?

  • Framework for Teaching. The learning target guides instruction across the Gradual Release of Responsibility. A well-written learning target ensures that the teachers can explicitly teach and model the important performance criteria necessary for learning, provide the appropriate practice opportunities, and assists in monitoring student progress and sharing purposeful and actionable feedback with students.
  • Direction. Students need clear, step by step processes with check in activities and ongoing assessment and feedback that support them toward clear goals.
  • Clarity. Learning shouldn’t be a “guessing game.” The greatest student achievement is supported by clarity of instruction (Hattie, 2012).
  • Understanding. Students should be able to read and articulate what you want them to know, understand, and be able to do.
  • Assessment. A well-designed learning target provides the performance criteria that describe mastery.

Components of Effective Learning Targets

  • VISIBLE: Posted in the classroom and easy to see.
  • UNDERSTANDABLE: Written in language students can understand.
  • ALIGNED TO STANDARDS: Standards are unpacked to describe student proficiency so they can meet standard goals over time.
  • ACTIONABLE: Clearly outline the performance criteria that must be understood and the methods of demonstration to show understanding.
  • SCAFFOLDED: Incrementally build on previous learning and provide options for students at varied levels of mastery.
  • GRADUALLY RELEASED: The teacher explicitly teaches and models the demonstration of learning in whole group, creates opportunities for practice in small groups, and provides a way for students to individually show they have mastered it independently.
  • MEASURABLE: Performance criteria can be monitored and assessed through multiple methods including observation, conferencing, reading, writing, and collaborative work.
  • STUDENT OWNED: Students can articulate what they are learning and can explain how they will meet the performances criteria.


Know Your Learning Target an Educational Leadership article by Connie M. Moss, Susan M. Brookhart and Beverly A. Long (2011).

1 thought on “What is a learning target and why is it important?

  1. Mary Miller

    Good article… I like how they broke it all down… Points liked outcome either a behavioral objective or knowledge based.


Leave a comment.