Writing Learning Objectives

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Learning Objective means the same thing as Learning Outcome.

A learning objective tells us one of the specific things that we want to get from the Learning Program.

By looking at our Scope Statement, we find out which Standards are appropriate. By looking at our Standards, we can work out the specific things that we want to include in our training.

By specific, we mean that it will tell us (and everyone else who reads it) three things:

  1. What the learner will be able to do
  2. How it will be measured
  3. How they can demonstrate the learning

If we know these three things, then we can make good decisions about the types of things our learners could do to learn the things that are needed, and how we can assess whether they can do them. If we do not have clear objectives, then our learning will not be clear, and nor will our assessment be clear; in this situation, how can we be confident that we will be meeting the training needs of our client? Also, how can our client be confident in their employees? Or in us?

In my mind, the key to writing a really good (ie, really clear) learning objective is to approach each of the three parts separately. Once we have answers for each of the three parts, then we can bring them together. It might seem a bit cumbersome doing it this way, but it doesn’t take much practice before we can do them in our heads and very quickly.

Part 1: What will the learner be able to do?

What the learner will be able to do is the key to how we will train them. We find this out by completing a Task Analysis.

For example, if we want the learner to list the steps in making a cup of coffee, then we will probably get them to write down a list of the steps. If we wanted them to actually describe the steps, then we might get them to tell us about the steps. If we wanted them to demonstrate the steps, then we might actually get them to follow the steps.

In this example, there are three action words (in italics). An action word is what tells us what the learner will be able to do. Some people say that you should use an action word if you can. I say that you should use an action word in every learning objective. Why? It is my thinking that if you don’t know which action word to use, then you probably don’t fully understand what it is that you want your learners to do.

Ask yourself: Ask yourself: If you don’t know what you want learners to do, then will your learners know what you want them to do?

Common action words include:

Explain, describe, demonstrate, assemble, perform, plan, repair, sort, list, build, conduct, erect, draw, arrange, align, inspect, decide, write, operate, name, select

The thing that every one of these has in common is that they tell us what action the learner is meant to be doing.

For our cup of coffee, we want them to be able to make the coffee.

When we do a task analysis, we can also divide the task into Knowledge, skills and attitudes, such as the following example for operating an automatic toaster. (I won’t overdo the coffee example – although if you would like to pause to test how accurate were my steps for making a cup of coffee, then please feel free to do so!).

JOB: Breakfast Restaurant Staff TASK: Operating an Automatic Toaster
Basic Parts or StepsKnowledgeSkillsAttitudes
1. Check toaster- Effect of using an unsafe toaster- Place toaster in a safe location
- Check toaster cable for safety
- Connect to the power supply and turn on
- Choose to accomplish task safely
2. Use toaster- Use types of bread suited to toasting
- How to turn toaster on
- Safe handling techniques
- Place bread in toaster (if required - slice to required width)
- Adjust time as required
- Activate toaster to start
- Toast bread and remove
- Willing to use appropriate breads
3. Shut down toaster- How to disconnect from power supply
- How to clean
- Turn off toaster at power supply
- Unplug toaster
- Clean and remove loose objects (once toaster has cooled down)
- Choose to use toaster safely
- Willing to keep equipment clean

Part 2: How it will be measured

There is no point getting our learners to do things if we are going to not know whether they can do them properly or not.

For our coffee making example, we might consider that the performance will be measured by the coffee being made safely and of a taste that is suitable for the assessor.

Other types of things that we can use here could be:

  • Without error
  • First time
  • Time limits

Part 3: How they can demonstrate the learning

So, now that we know what action they will be undertaking (eg, making), and what standard they will be measured against (eg, safely), we need to decide how they are going to show us that they can do this (eg, make the coffee safely).

This is where we start to think about assessment. In all cases, we need to make sure that assessment is valid, flexible, reliable and fair (Link). This basically means that we have to make sure that the way we assess our learners will really let us make a decision about whether they can do what they are assessing them in.

So, how can we assess our coffee making?

The key to this one is the action word. If our action word involves making something, then it is logical that we would get them to show us that they can make something. Think about it…if we are assessing the ability to make something, and we got them to do a written test, then can we honestly say whether they can or cannot make it? Sure, in a written test they might be able to describe the steps, or explain why it is important to do things in a certain way, but these action words are not part of this objective.

For our example, it would be appropriate to have them demonstrate how to make the cup of coffee.

Pulling it all Together

From these three steps we have:

StepsKey FocusOur Example
1. What the learner will be able to doAction words- Make a cup of coffee
2. How it will be measuredWays to measure the action- Safely
- Satisfactory taste
3. How they can demonstrate the learningWays to show the action- Demonstrate
Our Objective:
Our learner will be able to demonstrate how to safely make a cup of coffee that tastes satisfactory.

Another thing we can do is to apply the SMART formula.

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