Effective Learning Objectives Can Engage Everyone

effective learning objectives

Instructional designers want their courses to work. However, all the animations, videos, and gee-whiz visuals won’t work unless there are effective learning objectives.

Sure, an engaging course might thrill learners at the moment, but if the course isn’t effective, then ROI disappears and your’e stuck at square one.

How to write effective learning objectives? We’ve written several times on the need to work on this critical aspect when developing courses, but it’s time we revisited this important topic.

1. Make the course as specific as possible.

We love ambition, but when a course tries to be all things to all people, it simply won’t work.

This is for a few reasons:

  • No single course can teach everything that a learner needs to know.
  • There will be mixed reactions among learners. Some might be excited at the prospect of learning a lot all at once, while others might feel overwhelmed.
  • The course will end up being too long to build and too long for learners to consume.

Instead, a better idea is to be as specific as possible.

A previous example we used was a potential course tentatively titled, How to Create Data Visualizations. While this might sound exciting for some, especially in a highly-sought after discipline, it’s too vague.

And what would be the learning objective for a course this broad? That would be hard to figure out.

Instead, a course with a more specific title and focus, such as An Introduction to Data Visualization for Accounting Professionals Using Tableau, gives more of an idea of who will be attending the course and what the value would be.

Now that the course has been made more specific, effective learning objectives can be written. Since the course is an introduction, it does not presume prior knowledge of the subject. However, since it’s for accounting professionals, there can be a presumed knowledge of Excel or other financial software. Oh, and the exact software package that will be used will be Tableau.

Work with the accounting department to devise a reasonable outcome of the learning. It might be to create a basic visualization in Tableau.

2. Don’t forget Bloom’s taxonomy.

Ironically, an effective learning objective would not be to simply “learn” a new skill. Of course, learners learn, but the more action that is baked into the learning objective, two benefits result:

  • The learner will have a more thorough understanding of what is expected of her during the training.
  • The learner will have a more thorough understanding of how the learning will connect to her work after the training is over — i.e., how to put the concepts learned into action.
  • Designers, developers, and others involved in building the course can begin to choose the elements that can best carry out the objective.
  • Managers will have a better idea of what to look out for in the employee’s performance post-training, and can determine whether the training carried out what it sought to do.

So, how to make the learning objectives as specific, actionable, and relevant as possible? Let’s have a look at the old instructional design standby, Bloom’s taxonomy. By way of a quick review, here is a chart of the taxonomy:

Original Bloom’s Taxonomy from 1956Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy in 2001
KnowledgeRemember
ComprehensionUnderstand
ApplicationApply
AnalysisAnalyze
SynthesisEvaluate
EvaluationCreate

As you can see, “action” verbs that correspond to the cognitive domains within Bloom’s Taxonomy are much more specific and useful.

While remembering and understanding are fine, they’re superficial. The true measure of the effectiveness of a learning objective is whether the learner can apply the learning, or even analyze and evaluate situations based on the concepts delivered in the learning experience.

3. Finding the “Goldilocks” Learning Objective

Yes, we, too, want to find that “Goldilocks” or “just right” learning objective.

We also want it to be short and to the point, like a Mission Statement or an elevator pitch. If you’ve ever worked on these types of communications, you probably recall how long it takes to write something that in the end, is so short.

As Mark Twain once said, “I’d have written you a shorter letter, but I didn’t have the time.”

So, aside from being succinct and professional, the right-fit learning objective, in order to be effective must map to both the content and the learning styles of your audience members perfectly.

If the learning objective is too broad or ambitious, learners will feel overwhelmed and frustrated at learning too much at once. Further, they may feel pressured to put into action the concepts and have a fear of failing to meet their goals.

On the other hand, if the learning objective is too narrow and easy, learners will not feel challenged and may easily get bored or distracted. They may even skip the training altogether and not take it seriously.

To get to the right learning objective, consider breaking down more difficult topics or unifying easier ones.

In a previous article, we suggested that the L&D team lean on subject matter experts for help in deciding how to devise this Goldilocks learning object.

However, we now feel that others need to be brought in for advice on the matter, namely the business partner who requested the training or the manager of the department who oversees the employees and will be witness to the effectiveness of the course.

Such individuals have more of an awareness of how much learning should be delivered in a single course, what learning styles the employees generally share, and what assessments make the most sense. When possible, ask them for help in establishing the learning objectives of the course.

training project resources

In sum, writing effective learning objectives is perhaps one of the more challenging aspects once a course is greenlighted. Without them, course developers will not select the right mix of elements to build the course, and learners will not engage properly.

Take the time to develop realistic goals, based on feedback from managers, subject matter experts, or even the employees themselves.

Managing stakeholders can be one of the most stressful aspects of training project management. So we’ve put all the materials you’ll need together in this handy toolkit:
The Secret Formula for Working with SMEs

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