Skip navigation
College Quarterly
Fall 1993 - Volume 1 Number 1
The Effects on Students of Pre-Announced Learning Objectives and Immediate Performance Feedback
by Umesh Kothare

Enhancing students' overall performance, increasing their motivation to take greater responsibility for learning, and minimizing attrition rates are all useful post-secondary educational goals. With these in mind, a first semester Introductory Psychology curriculum was organized into 12 weekly seminars, and explicit advance direction was given to students during the orientation session regarding: (1) pre-seminar reading assignments, (2) specific learning objectives (on which students were to be tested before and after each seminar), and (3) the grading system (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

Pre-seminar reading assignments, based on precise, measurable and pre-announced objectives, were provided to help students to differentiate between important and unimportant materials, to focus their attention on relevant content areas, and to motivate them to take greater responsibility for their own learning. Pre-seminar quizzes and immediate performance feedback were used to reinforce motivation. The seminar activities included mini-lectures, structured experiences, small-group discussion, and other strategies befitting specific pre-announced objectives.

Post-seminar quizzes and immediate performance feedback were provided to reinforce students' achievement of pre-announced learning objectives, and to direct their activities to overcome any difficulties. Grades were assigned to reinforce perception of success and to build increased motivation. Evaluated at the end of the semester, the results were overwhelmingly positive. The students' attendance, participation, and overall performance improved greatly.

Research Design and Method

Consistent positive results over three semesters encouraged further empirical research to investigate the following hypotheses: pre-announcing precise, measurable learning objectives, and providing students with immediate objectives/outcomes feedback, will result in students' attaining significant increases in Personal and Social Self scores as measured by the Tennessee Self Concept Scale, significant increases in Ego Strength scores as measured by the 16 PF Questionnaire, and significant decreases in scores in the direction of less external locus of control as measured by the Rotter I-E Scale.

There were 48 student subjects, 31 females and 17 males, 18 to 34 years old with a mean age of 20, who were randomly assigned to two 24-person groups. Group A served as the traditional experimental group, enrolled in weekly seminars featuring precise, measurable, pre-announced learning objectives, pre- and post-seminar quizzes, and immediate feedback regarding achievement of pre-announced seminar objectives. The control group, Group B, also attended weekly seminars, but these were without the pre-announced learning objectives, the seminar quizzes, or the immediate feedback. Both A and B were pre- and post-administered the Tennessee Self Concept Scale, the 16 PF Questionnaire, and the Rotter I-E Scale. The investigator conducted all seminars.

Results and Analysis

Analysis of variance showed no significant difference between the pretest scores for both groups. However, A and B appeared to differ significantly on the gain scores of Personal Self (F = 9.40, p <.01), Social Self (F = 8.50, p <.01), Ego Strength (F = 17.41, p <.001), and the loss scores of I-E Locus of control (F = 32.47, p<.001). Mann-Whitney, one of the most powerful of the nonparametric tests, was used to compute the significance of the difference between gain scores for groups A and B and pre/post measures for each dependent variable. (see Table 1.)

Table 1: ANOVA Summary of Groups A and B
Pre-test Scores Gan / Loss Scores
Tennessee Self-Concept Scale
personal self 1.79 9.40
social self 0.47 8.50 P<0.01
16 PF Questipnnaire ego strength 0.03 17.41 P<0.001
Rotter I-E Scale I-E scale 0.11 32.47 P<0.001
Mann-Whitney U-test for Gain/Loss scores Tennessee Self-Concept scale U Value
Tennessee Self-Concept Scale
personal self 122.00 P<0.001
social self 114.00 P<0.01
16 PF Questipnnaire ego strength 129.00 P<0.001
Rotter I-E Score I-E score 137.00 P<0.001

Mann-Whitney test results confirmed a highly significant difference in gain/loss scores between Groups A and B (p <.01, p <.001). Results of multiple regression analysis (see Table 2) indicate that it is reasonable to assume that variance in quiz scores and term test grades can be attributed to increments in Personal Self, Social Self, and Ego Strength scores,and to decrements in I-E scores.

Discussion of Findings

A first hypothesis predicted that pre-announcing precise, measurable learning objectives and providing immediate feedback of these objectives/outcomes will result in students attaining a significant increase in Personal and Social Self Scores as measured by the Tennessee Self Concept Scale. Results of the study clearly support this prediction. The value of learning objectives, that is statements of desired learning outcomes, has been examined and discussed throughout the history of education. Clearly stated learning objectives help students to know both what, and how, they are expected to achieve.

There are three perspectives which suggest the utility of pre-announcing precise, measurable learning objectives: (1) from a rational perspective, it seems logical that precisely-stated objectives help to focus students' attention to directly relevant areas and specific learning activities; (2) from an empirical perspective, current research findings confirm that precise and measurable objectives are essential for both effective learning and effective teaching; (3) from a functional perspective, without clearly defined objectives, it is impossible to assess instructional programmes, student achievement, or teacher performance, and there can be no sound basis for the selection of appropriate materials, instructional activities, or test items.

Instructional objectives also are consistent with greater educational accountability. Students derive a sense of security from knowing what is expected of them and how they will be asked to demonstrate competencies, and from understanding specific course goals. Clearly stated, pre-announced objectives can help students understand course requirements and reduce the generalized anxiety and uncertainty commonly believed to be a major cause of educational failure.

Most research confirms the view that students who know specific objectives achieve more than students who are unaware of instructional aims. The relevant literature suggests that students learn more rapidly and reach higher levels of achievement when provided with knowledge of their performance. Research on effective teaching consistently has shown that immediate feedback regarding performance is highly productive in achieving superior motivation and promoting successful performance.

Research on relationships between success in school and self-concept consistently has shown a positive correlation between self-concept variables and academic achievement. This studyÌs findings indicate a significant correlation between quizzes and term tests performance and increments in Personal Self and Social Self scores (see Table 2).

Table 2: summary of Multiple Regression
Seminar Quizzes Performance as a Dependent Variable
Multiple R.
0.86 personal self gain
0.84 social self gain
0.89 ego strength gain
0.91 I-E scores loss
Term Tests Preformance as a Dependent Variable
Multiple R.
0.89 personal self gain
0.91 social self gain
0.92 ego strength gain
0.92 I-E scores loss

Self-concept, which includes our individual beliefs, convictions, values, and aspirations, plays an important role in all our lives. In addition to impressions received from significant others, oneÌs self-defined successes are a major force in shaping perception of personal worth. Student self-concept and academic achievement are closely interrelated. Self-concept is not something separate from, but integral to, educational performance. Fitts [1971] proposes that self-concept is most strikingly affected by: (1) particular (and especially interpersonal) experiences which generate positive feelings and a sense of value and worth, (2) competence in areas valued by the individual and others, and (3) self-actualization, or the implementation and realization of oneÌs true personal potential.

Self-development is an important educational goal. It is an essential quality of the existential situation of the person, and may be an important predictor of behaviour and achievement. Helping students to build good self-images is probably the single most significant thing a teacher can do. Educators and researchers have suggested numerous ways of enhancing the self-concepts of students. This study empirically supports the conclusion that pre-announcing precisely stated and measurable learning objectives, and providing immediate feedback of achievement of these objectives can become useful in enhancing student self-concept, sense of personal worth, and general level of self-esteem.

A second hypothesis stated that pre-announcing precisely stated and measurable learning objectives, and providing immediate feedback of achievement of these objectives/outcomes will result in a significant increase in Ego Strength scores, as measured by the 16 PF Questionnaire. The results strongly support this hypothesis (see Table 1).

In Freudian terms, ego is the link between id and superego. The ego is close to a personÌs self-image; ego strength refers to self-discipline guided by purpose and meaning, and includes characteristics such as emotional stability, maturity, ability to adjust to facts, and a sense of reality. Jones [1992] suggests that the primary characteristics which distinguish achievement-oriented students with a high ZQ (zest for learning) from others include: (1) orientation toward goals, (2) positive expectations, (3) confidence, (4) resiliency, (5) self-discipline, (6) pride in accomplishment, (7) academic proficiency, (8) endurance, and (9) courage.

Self-discipline is the fuel which transforms potential into developed ability and achievement. The findings in this study show a highly significant correlation between seminar quiz and term test performance and increments in ego strength scores (see Table 2).

Educators have long emphasized the positive correlations between enhancing self-discipline and high academic achievement, and between a lack of self-discipline and low academic achievement. Increments in ego strength are important to human functioning, and this study's findings suggest an alternative mode of enhancing students' ego strength.

The third hypothesis predicted that pre-announcing precisely stated and measurable learning objectives, and providing immediate feedback of achievement of these objectives/outcomes, would result in a significant decrease in scores in the direction of less external locus of control, as measured by the Rotter I-E Scale. The results of this study strongly support this prediction.

The concept of locus of control was developed from social learning theory, and refers to people's perception of whether their successes and failures are under their control. A belief that success or failure are under one's own control is characterized as high internal control, and those believing that success or failure are under the control of outside forces are said to have high external control.

Research has shown that students who have a higher internal locus of control are more confident about achieving, actually achieve at higher levels, and persist in tasks because they feel they can score well. When students succeed, they increase confidence and sense of worth by attributing their performance to internal, personal factors.

This study demonstrates a highly significant correlation of seminar quiz and term test scores with decrements in I-E scores (see Table 2). It is expected that persons with high internal loci of control are likely to have greater self-concepts when compared to those displaying high external loci of control. This is because the 'internals' ascribe success to their own abilities and efforts, and perceive that their actions and results co-vary. 'Externals' see little such connection, and ascribe even their successes to the easiness of the task, or to pure chance. 'High internals' have increased pride in their accomplishments, while 'high externals' are hampered by failure and prone to cease their goal-directed activities.

Motivation is the inner force that initiates action toward a specific end. Educators are concerned with motivating students to increase time on tasks, to improve task completion and accuracy, to use prosocial skills in interaction with others, and to develop self-discipline and confidence. But social learning theory emphasizes that regardless of level of motivation, behaviour is not undertaken without the likelihood that action will result in goal attainment.

The pre-seminar reading assignment based on pre-announced precise and measurable objectives, pre/post seminar quizzes, and the provision of immediate feedback regarding achievement of learning objectives, are all components of the feedback-loop learning approach used in this study. All tend to accentuate students' effort, sense of responsibility, self-reliance, high expectations and consistency in goal attainment.

Achievement and self-worth are inextricably linked; achievement is rarely accidental. Achieving students typically push themselves to their limits; they not only accept the educational systemÌs challenges, but also intentionally create their own.

The interrelation of self-concept, motivation, locus of control, and academic success has long been integral to humanistic education programmes. The findings of this study support additional efforts, and a new approach to influencing students to become inner-directed and self-reliant.

Future Directions

This research was exploratory, and suggests the need for further investigation and analysis. Since the development of the self-concept is an evolving process, further work might include longitudinal study of the effects of the feedback-loop learning approach (see Figure 1). Moreover, the present study needs to be replicated using a larger sample, drawn from a different population.

Possible refinements of the research design might include: (1) samples controlled for age, sex, and other demographic variables, (2) behavioural outcomes evaluated by significant others, rather than using self-report measures, (3) the use of other variables, such as measures of anxiety, self-assurance, learning styles, and cultural factors, (4) replication by independent researchers who are not participants in the process, and therefore may be relatively free from perception of bias.

The development of positive self-esteem, self-reliance, and increased internal locus of control are desirable goals at all levels of education. The feedback-loop approach used in this study may be regarded as a valuable addition to the educatorÌs repertoire of teaching techniques. The results of this study seem sufficiently promising to warrant further research in the area of learning objectives/outcomes and their possible contributions to the actualization of the learnerÌs potential.


Fitts, W. [1971]. The self-concept and self-actualization. Nashville, Tenn: Dede Wallace Center Monograph No. 3.

Jones, C. [1992]. Enhancing self-concepts and achievement of mildly handicapped students. Springfield, Ill: C. Thomas.

Umesh Kothare teaches Psychology in the School of Liberal Studies, Seneca College, Toronto, Ontario. This article is abridged from a paper originally presented to the inaugural meeting of the Association for the Study of College Education, Ottawa, Canada on June 8, 1993. The original text with full references is available from the author.