In recent years, increasing reference has been made to learning objectives and competencies in the world of education. The construction of learning objectives and competencies is increasingly being included amongst the duties of a teacher. In some cases, however, there can be confusion about the exact dividing line between the two concepts. The following information addresses this dividing line in greater detail.

  • Learning objectives
    Learning objectives indicate what a student should be able to know and/or do at the end of the learning situation (e.g. lecture, practical, session). They provide students with an indication of which topics (learning content) should be known at which level (e.g. knowledge, insight) at the end of the lecture. Learning objectives are nevertheless not created out of thin air. They are derived from competencies.
  • Competencies
    Competencies are intended to assess whether a person is suitable to function in practice. They describe the qualities (knowledge, skills, attitudes) that a person should be able to fulfil in professional practice. Competencies are thus positioned very close to the professional field.

In summary: learning objectives indicate what a person should know at the end of a learning situation, whereas competencies indicate what a person should know at the end of a programme or module. What is actually the difference between these two concepts? As previously noted, learning objectives are derived from competencies. They are the ‘building blocks’ of the competencies. The construction of learning objectives and their achievement by students brings students closer to acquiring specific competencies, and thus closer to being able to practice a profession well. 

For example:
A fictitious competency from the field of medicine: ‘The physician should be able to build a relationship of trust with the patient and communicate information to the patient properly’. The following is an example of a learning objective that could be associated with this competence: ‘The student should be able to use the communication tips when conducting a conversation with a patient’. In this lecture, therefore, it is logical that the communication tips would be provided.