Writing Learning Objectives
When delivering a Train the Trainer session to fairly experienced tutors or facilitators, it often surprises me how many people do not consider the importance of setting learning objectives or at times, tend not to use them. There are many options available but for those who know me, I am a fairly simple person but I do like to do simple well. On that basis, the model I often find that works well for me, as well as my Train the Trainer learners, is the session on writing learning objectives where we discuss behaviour, standard and conditions. Fairly old but really useful.
The purpose of a learning objective is to communicate to yourself and your trainees, in the simplest and most direct way, the expected outcomes of the training session. Learning objectives are much more precise and measurable than statements of aims or purpose.
Learning objectives have three key elements:
Setting the learning objectives of your training is a critical part of the learning planning process. A learning objective describes as clearly and unambiguously as possible what your trainees will be able to do at the end of the session, course or learning event. You can then test them to see if they can do it. If not, the objective has not been reached and further training may be necessary.
There are a number of conventions to be followed in the preparation of learning objectives. These are intended to avoid ambiguity as much as possible. The three elements of a learning objective are:
It is useful to start with the phrase “By the end of the course / session, the trainees or learners will be able to …” This leads you automatically into describing the behaviour in what they will be able to do e.g.
Direct a visitor in the event of an emergency evacuation
Operate a fire extinguisher
Identify lighting fault warnings
Change a filter
Correct fluid levels
Pan and tilt a camera
Apply a latex mould
Mix correct volume of costume materials
Use action verbs to describe what they will be able to do, as in the words which are highlighted in bold in the above examples. Action (or Command) verbs are observable and measurable. When you test, evaluate or assess learners either they can “operate a fire extinguisher” or they can’t. You can observe them doing the task
Avoid vague verbs like
Understand Avid non linear editing
Know about the operation of the newsroom
Be familiar with the laws of libel
If you find you are using vague verbs ask yourself “how will I test that they understand the learning session subject?” Your answer will bring you back to active verbs. Depending on who the course is for it might be by asking them to:
Apply cause and effect analysis to problem solving
Describe the benefits of detailed Six Hats problem solving
This describes how well you expect the learners to be able to perform the task at the end of the training. New trainers often fall into the trap of assuming the trainees will be able to do things much better than they realistically can. A training course or session can usually only give a basic level of ability. Greater knowledge and skill development takes time and practise on the job, after the training. (70:20:10 Model by McCall, Lombardo and Eichinger).
For example, if you are training how to manage a fire evacuation to people who have never done it before. Your session might last for 30 minutes. At the end of that time you might realistically expect your trainees to “accurately and safely evacuate all colleagues and visitors within three minutes to the appointed fire evacuation roll-call point.” The bold words describe the standard they will reach when they leave you. It would be quite unrealistic to claim that they would be any more proficient.
The final element of the learning objective is a description of the conditions under which the learners will be able to carry out the task. There is a difference for example between being able to solve problems in a classroom than in a busy engineering shop floor or on vehicle on a real television production.
Other conditions might refer to the kind of equipment, location, type of customer or ranges of equipment or situations the learner will be able to work on. Whenever there is a range of circumstances or situations in which the learner might have to perform, you will need to specify the conditions under which they have been trained.
A couple of examples of Learning Objectives examples:
At the end of the session, learners will be able to
clean down and prepare a filling machine (behaviour)
safely and in line with the manufacturers recommendations (standard)
following every completion of a product filling. (condition)
As a result of the learning, participants will be able to
pan and tilt a camera (behaviour)
accurately following the director’s instructions (standard)
during a production on an outdoor shoot. (condition)
By the end of this session, delegates will be able to
set learning objectives (behaviour)
that include behaviour, standards and conditions (standard)
when designing inhouse learning events (condition)
Your learning objective will be determined by the standard of performance needed of the business, team, assessment requirements or safe working practices. This will have to be balanced against the time you have available to do the training. Be realistic and keep it simple.
You may also use SMART objectives for setting learning objectives, but it is worth focusing on behaviour, standard, and condition first.
S - Specific
M - Measurable
A - Agreed (Or achievable)
R - Realistic
T - Time Scale
SMART is a great tool but is normally better suited for performance or operational standards and goals. Behaviour, standard and conditions is remarkably simple yet highly effective in focusing classroom or structured learning.
Another useful tool is Bloom’s Taxonomy (Benjamin Bloom). This is a more advanced model to help shape learning objectives. Essentially, Bloom’s Taxonomy helps describe and classify observable knowledge, skills, attitudes, behaviours and abilities.
Setting learning objectives should be an essential element of any trainers learning design. Without a learning objective, how can you measure?
Alec McPhedran Chtd Fellow CIPD, Chtd Mngr CMI, MAC, is the managing director of Skills Channel TV, the training company for busy creative people. He specialises in one to one coaching, facilitated learning and team development. For further information, contact 0121 366 87 99 or visit www.skillschannel.tv.
Copyright © Alec McPhedran 2022
A trainer, coach and facilitator helping people acheive.