Developing Effective Learning Objectives
If you subscribe to the “3 Tells” model of training development (see box), you know that the first “tell” is often the most difficult to design. Learning objectives are more than a simple topic list or agenda presented at the beginning of a course. The best learning objectives are wholly integrated with the course and specific enough to allow trainees to demonstrate their mastery.
The “3 Tells” Training Model
The shortcut to writing objectives is really pretty simple. Ask yourself one or both of the following questions.
- When teaching psychomotor tasks or skills, ask “What do I want my trainees to be able to do after they have been trained?” For example:
- Operate a scale
- Run a compression machine
- Measure out ingredients
- When dealing with cognitive or knowledge objectives, ask “What do I want my trainees to know after they have been trained?” For example:
- List the ingredients in making …
- Describe the process for …
- State why we …
Notice that all the examples above start with an active verb, such as list, operate, measure, etc. You see, we can’t see anyone “know” or “understand.” We can only observe things people do to let us know … that they know! Learning objectives need to be measurable by practical methods, like performance demonstrations or written testing.
Your learning objectives should drive your assessment. Ask questions that relate directly to one or more objective. If you have written a good objective, you have written a test question. For instance, if the objective is to name the three classes of medical devices, then the test question would be, “What are the three classes of medical devices?”
When deciding how many learning objectives a single course should have, look back at questions 1 and 2 above – what do you want your trainees to be able to do or know – and write an objective for each answer.
A course should have as many objectives as it takes to prove the trainee has mastered the subject. That is why complex training topics are typically broken into some type of logical segments to make that goal manageable.
Next week, we’ll look at the difference between a general objective and a performance objective and the best way to write the latter.