I’ll admit, I read people’s learning objectives and sometimes do a little bit of judging. Too often, I see some pretty lousy learning objectives out there. Learning objectives deserve some serious attention because they can do so much for us.

What’s So Good About Learning Objectives?

As a training provider, learning objectives provide the scope of my training sessions. If I’m unable to talk a student off the edge of the abyss that is an endless downward questioning spree, I can always refer to the learning objectives to bring them back to the scope of the training. The learning objectives are also the measurement of my instructional success. Did we accomplish what we set out to do?

As an instructional designer, learning objectives define what needs to go into the training materials. Training should never be about one person trying to prove to another person just how amazing their knowledge is. The objectives will tell me whether I need to include a chapter on ‘coaching for low performers’ or not. Learning objectives also tell me what kind of training needs to take place. Will this be classroom based or is a hands-on portion needed? Do the students need to bring any personal protective equipment? How long does the class need to be?

As someone who is selling training, learning objectives describe my product. Here is exactly what your employees will be able to do upon completion of this course. The learning objectives define the contract and help keep me accountable to my customers.

As someone who is purchasing training, learning objectives tell me exactly what I’m buying. I’m essentially buying some knowledge and/or skills for my team. I want to know what these knowledge and/or skills are so I can determine if they’re adequate for my needs. I can also use the training objectives to ensure the facilitator held up their end of the bargain.

As a student, learning objectives tell me what to expect during a training session. Adult learners like to have some control of the learning process and an understanding of what will take place can enable students to be comfortable enough to engage with the learning process.

Why So Lousy Then?

If training objectives are so important and such a good tool for everyone involved, why are there so many lousy learning objectives out there? Well, in typical Planet Speaking℠ fashion we will say, sounds like an opportunity for some training.

What Makes Effective Learning Objectives?

At its most basic level, learning objectives will begin with an action word. They should answer the question, “What will the student be able to DO after this training?” Good action words for effective learning objectives are words such as: List, Define, Install, Diagnose, Perform, etc. Notice these are all things I can have the student do to show me the objectives have been met. Let’s use these action words to create some effective learning objectives. We can start by saying, “By the end of this session, the student should be able to….”

  • List the monthly reporting requirements of the front-line supervisor
  • Define the main terms in the annual performance appraisal worksheet categories
  • Install the appropriate anchor mountings for XYZ type fall restraint system
  • Diagnose ABC system fault codes
  • Perform audit of XYZ accounting document

Notice these are all things the student can do and the facilitator can observe them doing so. When the student successfully does these things, I’m confident the learning objective has been met. Effective learning objectives like this can be used to meet all the needs described at the beginning of this article.

What About Those Lousy Learning Objectives?

Lousy learning objectives are ambiguous. Lousy words to avoid are words such as; understand, relate, and show. You’re going to be faced with lousy learning objectives and it’s up to you to recognize the fact that they’re lousy and fix them. When I see a learning objective that begins with “understand”, I first think LOUSY! How is the student supposed to do or demonstrate understanding? Understanding can be demonstrated by Listing, Defining, Installing, Diagnosing, Performing, etc. If these are the things the student will be doing to demonstrate an understanding then use these action words instead.

Keep the learning objectives succinct. If an objective is very broad or begins to creep in scope, it’s best to break it down into a couple of objectives that are more concise.

Closing

Learning objectives are such an important tool, and we will talk about them many times here at Planet Speaking℠. Take the time to look your objectives over and make sure they are effective in stating what the learner will be able to do. Unfortunately, you are going to be ruined about learning objectives now. You’re going to see lousy ones all over the place. At least you’ll be able to offer some quality feedback to those willing to listen.

What experiences have you had with learning objectives? Have you come across lousy ones? What challenges have you had? Have you used quality learning objectives and experienced how valuable a tool they can be? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.

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Posted by Josh

I've been a Technical Training Instructor for over a decade, teaching a wide variety of classes across the globe. I have a passion for creating and delivering high-quality training content in a way meant to fully engage the learner. "Planet Speaking" is our version of a Train the Trainer model based on our experiences as trainers and instructional designers.

2 Comments

  1. I definitely agree that Learning Objectives are often broad and undefined. As a teacher, I try to target specific goals when writing Learning Objectives. However, some times I struggle to make useful learning objectives. I often get stuck in the never ending list of “Students will…” statements. Thank you for providing further information on developing stronger Learning Objectives. I like the use of action words to enable student performance and assess mastery of the objective. This method will make planning my lessons much easier. It will also help me in my upcoming transition from teacher to Instructional Designer. It will guide me in writing new Learning Objectives for adult learners.

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    1. Thank you for your comments, Carrie. Keeping a list of good action verbs nearby can be helpful when writing learning objectives. I tend to put a “students will:” at the top and bulletize the objectives from there. Define, state, identify, list, etc.

      I’ll also be focusing more on the instructional design side of things for the next several months. More posts on that aspect of the business to come.

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