Learning objectives are a crucial part of developing training courses and to ongoing course improvement. They steer the direction of a training program or individual course and help in the development of an evaluation program.
What is Important to Learn?
Learning objectives help us to ask, ‘What is most important for participants to learn in this class and how will I know when the learning has occurred?’ While there are many definitions used in clarifying learning objectives, the one I have found most useful comes from an expert in the corporate training world.
Mager (1997) defines a learning objective as (p 3):
… a collection of words and/or pictures & diagrams intended to let others know what you intend for your students to achieve.
- It is related to intended outcomes, rather than the process for achieving those outcomes
- It is specific and measurable, rather than broad and intangible
- It is concerned with students, not teachers
Designing Course Objectives
All my course objectives are designed using Mager’s (1997) criteria for a measurable learning objective. Each objective conveys what the learner should be able to do, under what conditions, and how well they should be able to do it. I refrain from using words like ‘understand’ or ‘appreciate’ in my objectives, as they are neither descriptive nor measurable.
Course objectives are different than topics, in that objectives are geared more toward instructional design, while topics tend to be more useful in the marketing of a course (internally or externally to the organization).
Mager describes the three components of a useful objective as (p 53):
- Performance. It describes what the learner is expected to be able to do. Use action verbs to ensure clarity (examples of action verbs include: describe, sort, compare, contrast, create, present, explain, list, and solve).
- Conditions. It describes the conditions under which the performance is expected to occur.
- Criterion. It describes the level of competence that must be reached or surpassed.
Below is an example of one of the objectives from Introduction to Business’ management and leadership module.
Performance: Draw an organizational chart is the desired performance, or what the student is expected to be able to do.
Conditions: The conditions under which the performance is expected to occur are pretty basic: anytime/anywhere. There are no special conditions that make drawing an organizational chart any easier or harder. If I were testing the students’ computer skills in this learning objective, the objective might read, “Given a computer with Microsoft Word 2007 installed, create an organizational chart (including position titles) for a company that has adopted a functional structure with at least three levels of management.”
Criteria: The criteria in this case is that the org chart they draw contains at least three levels.
Developing and revising learning objectives does take some thought and effort, though the payoff in clarity of focus and ease of measuring programmatic and individual learner progress makes it well worth it.
For more on the topic of learning objectives, as well as a chance to test your skills, watch this online course. It is published in Flash and therefore may not be viewed on iphones/iPads, but instead must be watched on a web browser that has Flash (Internet Explorer, Safari, Chrome, etc.). The course uses examples of building learning objectives in college-level courses, but all the same concepts and approaches still apply in the corporate training realm.