Writing Performance-based 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 four-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, four-part learning objectives you write for learning experiences. Believe me, no audience member wants to see a long list of instructional objectives preceded by 220.127.116.11. Only instructional designers find those lists exciting.
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.”
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.
- Writing Performance-based Learning Objectives: Part 1
- Writing Performance-based Learning Objectives: Part 2
If you want to find out more about a career in instructional design, download my quick read eBook below.
Connie Malamed says
Agree. This can come after getting input from learners during your audience analysis.
Isabelle Langeveld says
In a small group of ID’s, coaches, trainers and facilitators we are discussing how we can make the conversation about learning objectives interesting and worthwhile. Not only with ourclients, who can be a little impatient, but also with our learners.
I have searched the internet on theories, approaches or experiences for a learning objectives dialogue, but there is nothing to find. It seems like writing objectives is something the ID does, with some input of a subject matter expert and the client. But where are the learners?
One method I can think of is to interview learners for stories from their daily practice and to analyze them together to find what they have learned by living them through.
I am looking forward to reading your views and perhaps a link.
Connie Malamed says
Well said, Kay. Thank you.
I love the idea of hooking the learner with engaging the emotion of the learner with a scenario or question to get them to think “What’s in if for me?” or “How does this effect me?”
I always felt learning objectives were necessary but they feel so stale at the start of a module. This is such a better way! Take your real learning objectives that you use to design and create your module, then pull out the emotion to motivate your learners and hook them at the beginning of your module.
Dr. Latha Venkataraman says
Interesting, informative and useful!
Jenny in Florida says
I like the idea of a real world scenario at the beginning of the session. I’m going to see how to use that in my next training!
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.
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?
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.
Connie Stanley says
Hi Larry, I have the same question as you; did you ever get a response from anyone? If so, what was it?
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?
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?
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.
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”.
Steve Flowers says
A directly related topic from the guys at Commoncraft (paper cutout explanations):