Learning Objectives: What Are They & How Do You Write Them?
Learning objectives aren’t the same as learning goals. They define the success or failure of an employee training program. It allows you to show employees where and how to focus their learning efforts.
Industry experts also call them learning outcomes, behavioral objectives, instructional objectives, or performance objectives.
Start here to learn the difference between learning objectives and learning goals, components of learning objectives, and tips to keep in mind when creating learning objectives.
Let’s get to it!
What Is a Learning Objective?
A learning objective outlines employees’ impact (knowledge or skills) at the end of a training program. Creating a good learning objective is an essential step in designing any training program.
The objectives help outline the scope of the training content and guide the L&D developer through the curation and creation of task-based content.
Learning objectives also continue to play a crucial role after the instructor creates the training program. They clarify the training goals to the instructor and learners, enabling them to focus their attention on what’s important.
Why Are Learning Objectives Important?
Learning objectives guide the instructional design process.
These objectives are critical to maximizing your training results because they take out the ambiguity, allowing trainees to know what they need to do to succeed. In addition to creating a clear purpose to focus their learning efforts, it guides the teaching and learning strategies.
There are several benefits of creating learning objectives for employees.
The benefits aim to help the instructor:
- Design a good course outline
- Select and organize an efficient course content
- Determine content creation
The Difference Between a Learning Objective and a Learning Goal
Although instructors use learning objectives and learning goals interchangeably, the differences lie in their outcomes. Think of learning goals as the overall goals of the course, while learning objectives are the skills the student will acquire at the end of the training program.
Learning goals are broad and relatively easy to achieve. But being broad means it can be vague and immeasurable.
On the other hand, learning objectives highlight the specific competencies learners need to master to achieve the learning target. Learning objectives are achievable, realistic, and measurable.
3 Components of Learning Objectives
Now that we’ve established how vital learning objectives are to instructional design, let’s spend some time exploring the components of a measurable learning objective:
The behavioral component of a learning objective describes observable actions that the learner needs to demonstrate during or throughout the training. These could be theoretical or practical; however, clarity is vital.
Writing what the learner will be doing involves using clear and descriptive words—action words. Lumping up multiple verbs is discouraged as learners might end up seeing them as different objectives. To avoid confusion, use single verbs at your trainees' most accurate learning level.
The condition component specifies the context under which the learning outcomes are best delivered to the learner. It may include formulas, settings, tools, and time and place that direct the learning program.
This component is crucial because it strips away any ambiguity created by the behavioral component. For example, a condition could be:
“After this course, learners should take less than 30 mins to distinguish between an employee who'll be an asset and one who'll be a liability.”
In the example above, the time highlights the condition in which the behavior is best performed.
Criterion helps with measurement. It describes the expected level of performance from the learner at the end of the training session. Some instructors may elect to use more than one criterion.
But it isn’t unacceptable to measure the success of a program with only one criterion. Examples of criteria instructors use are time, accuracy, and degree of excellence.
Tips to Keep in Mind for Writing Learning Objectives
Here are a couple of tips to keep top of mind when creating learning objectives:
Learner-centered: You must consider the impact the instructional content will have on the learner. The objectives must focus on the learner and what they get out of the training or learning session.
- Use action verbs: These make sure tasks are unambiguous and measurable.
- Realistic: Objectives should be achievable within a fixed period. Also, consider using tools and resources learners can access without hassle.
- Simplify: Break the learning objectives into the least indivisible unit. That way, it’s less overwhelming for learners.
- Outcome-centered: Besides focusing on the learner, the learning objectives should reflect the steps that lead to the learning goals.
Steps for Writing Learning Objectives
Well-written learning objectives are a product of a well-thought-out creation process. To create an efficient and insightful outline, follow these seven steps when designing your measurable objectives.
1. Make the needs of your business the priority
As an instructor, it's possible to teach the same course to multiple people or companies. However, the best way to ensure that the company gets value from the employee's professional development is by aligning the learning experience to fit into the business's priority.
(Pro Tip: Conduct a training needs analysis.)
2. Write SMART learning objectives
Presenting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) learning objectives means employees are clear about what they’ll study, the mode of delivery, and most importantly, the intended outcome.
3. Empower your employees in the learning process
Employers often ignore this point—the training is for the employees, not the trainer or the employer. Empower employees by making sure to find out what skills the employees want or need. Finding the balance between your business goals and the skills the employees think they need is crucial to the success of the learning program. You could do this by speaking to them or running an office survey.
4. Use compelling verbs
Earlier, we mentioned the need to use action verbs. To reiterate, the choice of verbs is key to clarity. In other words, great measurable verb choices are the hack for learners to digest the material and understand it clearly.
Bloom's taxonomy is a hierarchical learning structure proposed by Benjamin Bloom in 1965 (and revised in 2001). And it’s still used in today’s instructional design process. It classifies student learning into six levels and highlights the key objectives and skills a teacher passes down to students.
Instructors can design an effective learning objective using these six levels:
1. Remembering: Recalling and retrieving facts from memory.
2. Understand: Making meaning of messages (spoken, text, visual) through examples, interpretation, categorizing, comparisons, or explanations.
3. Applying: Practice or implementation of a learned process.
4. Analyzing: An overall understanding of how the different parts of the material relate to each other and a sense of the end goal of the material.
5. Evaluating: Making sense of the learning material by appraising it based on set standards and criteria.
6. Creating: Collate and organize learning elements into a rational pattern.
How Bloom’s aids learning objectives
Bloom’s classification is a great way to explain the learning process. Classifying the various steps this way guides instructors in the development of educational objectives.
In simple terms, to understand, you must first remember. To apply, you must first understand. Further, one can only evaluate a process effectively after proper analysis. Finally, course creation can only be after an in-depth evaluation of the content.
To support instructors, each level in Bloom’s Taxonomy uses verb tables to define the action verbs that fit each level best. That way, you’re able to create an easily understandable structure. Some examples include:
- Create: design, create, build
- Evaluate: compare, convince, select
- Analyze: break down, analyze, associate
- Apply: solve, model, present
- Understand: contrast, discuss, paraphrase
- Remember: recognize, label, match
5. Short and sweet is best
Use concise objectives to avoid overwhelming your learners. Employees might not have the time or bandwidth to read long reams of text, so consider that when designing your learning objectives. But instructors need to strike a balance between overly scanty and adequate.
6. Keep it simple
It's a learning guide, not an encyclopedia. Strip away as much jargon as possible. Use references or resources for those who want to go deeper into the topic. Avoid fluff, wordiness, and redundant phrases.
Everyone makes errors. And an error-filled course objective damages the credibility of the instructional content. Spend time reading the training materials repeatedly to catch all the typos or grammar mistakes. Editing tools are also another way to detect and eliminate all the errors you may not find by yourself.
A well-defined learning objective is the best way to ensure a training program achieves its intended goal. Get it right, and your corporate training program is bang on the money.
Your employees are not only motivated and engaged, but they are clear on their learning outcomes and how they can implement their learnings in their day-to-day tasks at work.
It also makes the job of the L&D developer much more straightforward.
Dozie Anyaegbunam is a B2B content writer and strategist. A Cannes Lions certified storyteller, Dozie has crafted compelling content for brands such as Mirasee, SmartBlogger, Growth Mentor, and more. He's also Dodo and Ronan's dad, a proud flâneur, and a Felix Baumgartner wannabe. Don't miss his podcast, The Newcomers, where he interviews immigrants about the struggles and lessons that come with starting life in a new country.