Monday, July 7, 2014

Writing Learner-Focused Course Goals and Objectives

Below is a course goal written in two different ways. Which one makes you want to take the course described?
a. Understand how to drive a car.
b. Drive a car.
Did you choose Objective B? I did - I want to actually be able to DO what I'm learning about!


It's great to understand, know, define, explain and describe things… but how often is that what our learners have to do with the things they learn from us? I'm going to go out on a limb and say almost never. Our learners are DOING - they're consulting, they're brainstorming, they're brainstorming, they're advising, they're creating, they're prospecting - and while they do these things they're using information they've learned, but most likely they aren't giving their customers definitions or memorized statistics.

At least, we hope not, right? Right.

So, why would they want to attend or view training that isn't focused on what to do? That's a trick question - they wouldn't.

Too often, though, our course goals and objectives simply tell the learner what information they'll know when they've completed the class - not what they'll be able to DO.

Shift Focus

Telling a learner what information they’ll know is actually describing what the COURSE will do. If our example above, goal (A) might as well say "This course tells you how to drive a car."
In order to create truly impactful elearning, we want to shift the focus of our course goals and objectives course will do to what the learner will do.
from what the

To do this, identify the real world action the learner must do. In our example from above, “Understand how to drive a car" isn't an action the learner would take; it's describing things they're going to learn. "Drive" shifts the focus to what the learner is going to do with that information.

Break it Down

Once your overall course goal is focused on actions, it's easy to focus the objectives on actions. Your objectives should answer the question, "What does the learner have to do to achieve this goal?"

In our example, the learner is going to drive a car, so they have to be able to accelerate the car, make the car go forward and backward, stop the car, turn left and right, etc.

A strong objective has not only the Action, but the situation in which the action is performed - this can be tools used, conditions, etc. For example, the learner can't just stop the car - they have to stop the car using the brake pedal.

The objectives for the example course might look like this:
To reach this goal, you should be able to:
  • Use the key to turn the car on and off
  • Accelerate and stop the car with the foot pedals
  • Move the car forwards and backwards using the gear shift.
  • Maneuver through simple and difficult obstacles.

But… What do we TELL them?

Obviously, there's information that goes along with these actions. If you're going to use the gear shift, you have to know what gear does what, but do you have to know how the gear shift was put together? Do you have to know what all the components are called? Do you have to have that memorized? No.

You just have to know that D means drive, R means reverse, etc. The clear action-oriented objectives give us a clear idea of what a course is about and a clear idea what information is needed to be successful.

So, you tell them what they need to know to do the action that helps them reach the goal. Nothing more. This makes our job as course designers very easy. These objectives just saved us from building complicated interactions about the inner workings of a gear shift that no one needed and would never use.


Now it's your turn! For this week's call to action, take objectives from a course you've created (it can be instructor led or elearning) and put them to work! Shift the focus from what the course will do and tell us what the learner will do.

I can't wait to see what you guys come up!

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