Writing Learning Objectives: Part 3


Learning Objectives for the Audience

In case you were asleep, the previous two articles in this series discussed how to write learning objectives for your internal eLearning team. Part 1 demonstrated how to write classic three-part learning objectives and Part 2 discussed how to make them measurable. Now let’s see how to write exciting and fun learning objectives for your eLearning audience that will cause them to react as in the photo shown here.

All of this implies that the learning objectives you write for the audience should differ from the technical, inflexible, three-part learning objectives you write for developing training products. Believe me, no audience member wants to see a long list of instructional objectives preceded by “” Only instructional designers find those lists exciting.

Advance Organizers

Cognitive psychology tells us that as part of an overall instructional strategy, learning objectives can act as an advance organizer for the learner. In the right context, presenting audience members with learning objectives can help them organize new information by connecting it to information that they already know. This should ready the mind for learning and make it easier to understand new content. Presenting a vanilla list of learning objectives without context, however, will probably not achieve this goal. In fact, most people probably skip the “learning objectives screen” anyway.

Are You Guilty?

Let’s admit to the fact that we have all been guilty of presenting an audience with a long list of learning objectives. But it’s because someone made us do it, right? The problem is, not only do we miss a chance to facilitate learning, a plain list of instructional objectives at the start of a course doesn’t make sense to the learner without context. Plus this might be de-motivating and motivation is an important component of learning.


So what is an instructional designer to do? There are several approaches outlined here. And many more to come in future articles. David Ausbel, who developed the theory of Advance Organizers, suggested they should bridge the gap between what the learner knows and what the learner needs to know.

1. Real World Scenarios

One approach that works well is to start a course with a short scenario. The scenario should be realistic and present a problem for which most audience members probably don’t know the solution. At the end of the scenario, add a statement such as, “Would you know what to do?” Then lead into a related statement about what they will be learning.

2. How It Will Help The Learner

Another approach involves seeing things from the learner’s perspective. How will your course help the audience members? Will it help them save a life, become a better leader, repair a computer or use accounting software? Tell them how the course will benefit them and bury your objectives in those statements. Example: “As a manager, you may find it tough to not only organize projects but to lead the way as well. This lesson will teach you how to be a better leader, by practicing how to analyze given information to make sound decisions.”

3. Speak to the Emotions

It’s a well-known fact that speaking to the emotions is one way to motivate people. It also creates context—a way to connect previous knowledge with what one will be learning. Example: “In a hospital environment, patients are dependent on us during emergency situations. This module will help you quickly implement the fire emergency plan for your building to ensure our patients can be evacuated safely.”

Not Really The End

You’ve been given three possible ways to put learning objectives into a broader learning context and to make them more motivating. But this is really just the beginning of an important discussion. So please share your successful ways of introducing eLearning learning objectives to an audience. Write your comments below.

Related Articles:
Writing Learning Objectives: Part 2
Writing Learning Objectives: Part 3

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  1. Mark Cox says

    Sound advice – I think this approach works really well in ‘easing’ a learner into a learning session. Instead of throwing out a list of 10 or more formal objectives that the learner then has to labour through, you let them know straightaway “what’s in it for me”.

    You could even include this as a heading on the first screen of the module/lesson e.g. Why Am I Taking This Module? and then present the answer as above i.e. “As a manager, you may find it tough to not only organize projects but to lead the way as well…”.

    Immediately the learner can see the value of working through the module because he/she knows it will help improve job performance, problem solving abilities, etc. Compare this with a drawn out list of “You will be able to…Describe, Name, Explain, Analyse,…etc.” which can very quickly dampen enthusiasm as it’s too abstract and doesn’t show immediate relevance.

    It’s also useful I think to let the user know how much of his or her time will be required e.g. another heading with “How Long Will This Take Me?” followed by a statement such as “This module will take you about 20 minutes to work through”.

  2. Albert van den Berg says

    Many trainers/presenters never bother to think of the goals of their audience. This helps them to reflect on what they actually want to achieve.

  3. Larry Nardolillo says

    Are there certain verbs that should not be used when writing learning objectives for web based training? Is it possible to measure if someone can “explain” or “discuss”, when they are working on a computer?

  4. Larry Nardolillo says

    Mark – I just read your comment about the value of learning objectives. I agree with you about the low value of a “drawn out list of ‘You will be able to…Describe, Name, Explain, Analyse,…etc.’ which can very quickly dampen enthusiam as it’s too abstract and doesn’t show immediate relevance.”

    I want to ask if you are suggesting that learning objectives are optional for web based training, or if you think they are required, but need to be written better?

  5. Connie Malamed says

    Sorry, I didn’t I didn’t see Larry’s question so I didn’t answer. I think there is some debate about this. It’s probably better to only use verbs that can be demonstrated. But if you do want to use “explain,” then allow learners to enter short answers or else to select from a list of short explanations in a multiple choice test. Other approaches would be to allow learners to “explain” or “discuss” through social media channels.

  6. Jennifer Sim says

    If you are going to tell them to “explain” something, you should give them the so what with it. What difference does it make if they can or can’t explain it? How will it improve the learner’s knowledge or trainees performance?

  7. Peter Johnson says

    I introduce modules tuning the learner into the radio station that Mark Cox alluded to: WII-FM (W, double eye, F, M) What’s In It For Me.

    If a learner’s brain knows how the materials relates to his or her experience, it can recognize that the new information could be important and “saveable.”

    My students really enjoy this acronym and all I have to say is W, double eye, FM, and they start paying attention to the story that follows.

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