We’ve written previously on learning objectives and their importance in the development of learning experiences for employees. Instructional designers are educated and trained on how to write learning objectives according to best practices and adult learning theory.
A learning objective describes what learners should know or be able to do at the end of the course that they couldn’t do before. Sounds simple enough, right?
It’s actually harder than most people think.
If the learning objective is too broad, learners will feel overwhelmed and frustrated with a course that does not meet their goals.
Further, if the learning objective is too narrow, learners will not feel challenged and may easily get bored or distracted.
“How to Create Data Visualizations”
For example, a course titled, “How To Create Data Visualizations,” in which the objective would be “to create data visualizations,” may sound exciting for you and your learners. This is especially true given the industry enthusiasm for dataviz and the need for organizations to better understand the data they accumulate and analyze.
Unfortunately, data visualization has become an extremely diverse category over the last several years. There are dozens of platforms and hundreds of use cases in all industries. It is not feasible for a single course to effectively deliver on a promise as bold as How to Create Data Visualizations.
A better course title and objective would be something along the lines of, “Introduction to Data Visualization for Accounting Professionals in Department ____ Using Tableau.” This is much better, as it gives a clearer idea of different course parameters:
- Topic: Data visualization
- Level: Introductory, assuming no previous experience
- Audience or learners: Accounting professionals in a specific department or division within the company
- Tools: Tableau, a data analysis and visualization software platform
How to Write Learning Objectives That Guide Effective Course Design
To address these potential pitfalls, instructional designers can consider breaking down more difficult topics—or unifying easier ones. In this manner, the learning objective serves as a guide for the scope and design of the course itself.
When you have a clear focus, both you and your learners can easily get there. Well-defined and articulated learning objectives are important because they:
- provide students with a clear purpose on which to focus their learning efforts
- inform your selection of instructional content and activities
- guide your testing and assessment strategies
Well-written learning objectives should include observable behavior which can be measured. “Learning” and “understanding” are admirable instructional goals, but they are ambiguous and not observable or measurable.
Instead, the learning objectives should include more specific language that the student will be able to demonstrate after taking the course. While such language, including words like “apply,” “analyze,” and “evaluate,” are derived from instructional design blueprint Bloom’s Taxonomy, they need to be mapped to the material presented.
Back to the “Introduction to Data Visualization for Accounting Professionals in Department ____ Using Tableau” example given earlier. While the title of the course is targeted, the learning objectives have to be feasible and understandable to the learner.
Which would be a better learning objective for the course?
“To apply Tableau in accounting in Department ____.”
“To create two different 2D visualizations in Tableau using sample accounting datasets.”
The second one is more specific and sets the expectations for the learner for the course.
If you’re unsure how to write learning objectives, lean on your subject matter experts. A learning objective should consider not only the learner’s current skill set but also a reasonable amount of course content that delivers a meaningful experience. Subject matter experts have probably been down this road before; they may have contributed content for books, articles, user groups, or even courses outside of your company.
And if it doesn’t work out the first time? That’s OK, too. Sound instructional design has feedback loops built in. If learning objectives are not met the first time your course was delivered, then consider making necessary adjustments.
Want to learn more about how to create effective courses? Check out our free ebook!