Any training program's objective is to bridge the gap between learners' expected performance and actual performance by equipping them with the essential information and skills needed.
But how do you tell if the training has improved performance?
Susan Toth, Learning Designer at Aurion Learning provides her insights into learning objectives and outlines the best approaches to scoping them.
When ordering a coffee in Seattle, you really need a glossary. I’ll have a skinny, wet, tall, cappuccino, extra hot tells the barista the fat content of milk, the ratio of steamed milk to foam, the size, and an unspoken agreement that you won’t sue them if it burns you. We order coffee this way not because it’s authentic, but because we know what we like and what meets our wants and needs.
I traded Seattle for rural England, joining the Aurion Learning team as a Learning Designer one year ago. My job requires me to think a lot about learning objectives that result in learning that works for our clients. But the move meant that I had to become my own personal barista, crafting espresso-based drinks to my personal preferences and needs.
What if I told you that making the perfect cappuccino was a lot like scoping learning objectives? You are likely wondering how these two wholly unrelated concepts can be compared. Well, grab your hot drink of choice, and let’s explore the basics.
What is a learning objective?
A learning objective is a statement that describes what learners will be able to do on completion of an eLearning course. We can compare learning objectives to the perfect cappuccino in the sense that both combine elements that work together to create a desired result. Just as a cappuccino is made up of a carefully brewed espresso, steamed milk and foam, learning objectives are made up of three components that must be combined effectively to create a successful learning experience. Learning Designers at Aurion draft these objectives, ensuring that they:
- Are addressed to the learner and framed in terms of how the learning will help them do something better.
- Are demonstrable and measurable. They use words like identify, report, describe, create not understand, be aware, and have insight.
- Map to what we’re testing in the assessment, when applicable.
Why do we need learning objectives?
Learning objectives are the coffee beans of an eLearning module, resource, or solution. They are the foundations that are crucial in guiding and shaping the learning experience. Too general, and we’ll have no clear and specific goals that identify what the learners should be able to do after completing the course. Overly complex or too detailed, they can become overwhelming for the learner and difficult to achieve.
Well-designed learning objectives help us to focus on the content and ensure that only relevant information is included. And when these objectives are aligned with the learner's professional goals, they can increase motivation and engagement, as learners see the relevance and value of the learning experience. We also know that effective learning objectives act as a good tool to evaluate whether the eLearning course has achieved its purpose.
How do we scope the learning objectives?
Defining measurable business goals
Understanding the specific organisational or strategic goal that our client is attempting to achieve is the first step in establishing learning objectives. Aurion Learning Designers arrange a content workshop to better understand what the client hopes to achieve with an eLearning course. This 3-hour meeting enables us to collaborate with the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in creating an outline of their content. Clients generally come into this workshop with an organisational goal in mind. It might look something like this:
The health service will reduce waiting times for non-emergency medical procedures by 20% within the next 12 months.
In this case, their organisational goal includes a specified measurement of success to be achieved in a specific period of time.
Understanding the learner’s requirements
Just as you consider the needs and wants of the person who will enjoy that cappuccino, learning about the audience for an eLearning course is a significant first step. At Aurion Learning, we dive into information about the learners during the content workshop. Open-ended questions to the team of Subject Matter Experts uncover some basic information about the audience, including who the primary learners are and what these learners already know about the subject. We also ask questions that help to explore what these learners find difficult about this topic, what they might find interesting about it and what’s frequently asked about the topic.
Conducting a needs analysis
In a content workshop, it’s not uncommon for SMEs to begin talking about what they want the learners to know. Rather than making this conversation about knowledge, Learning Designers need to elicit what the learner needs to DO. We do this by focusing our questions around these four KISS concepts:
- What things are learners doing that you’d like them to keep doing?
- What behaviours can they improve upon?
- What behaviours are you trying to stop altogether?
- What behaviours do you want the learners to start?
The answers to these questions help us to determine the current level of performance, the level of performance that the client wants learners to achieve, and what is causing the gap between the two.
How the team of SMEs responds to these questions becomes the basis of your learning objectives.
Creating the learning objectives
Once you’ve perfected your espresso shot, it’s time to think about the other critical components of the perfect cappuccino. Will the ratio of espresso to steamed milk to foam be the traditional 1:1:1? Or will you opt for a double shot of espresso, a bit more steamed milk and a little less foam?
Like a cappuccino, the details matter when it comes to learning objectives. You are ready to start writing, but you’ll need to consider the cognitive demands you’re placing on the learner. Read these two very simple learning objectives and ask yourself, “Which one is the more demanding cognitive process?”
- Recognise a recipe for making a cappuccino.
- Make a cappuccino.
Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy (originally created as a hierarchical classification of the different levels of thinking) includes six levels of cognitive processes. You can see these levels listed below in increasing order by complexity. Look at the examples of verbs that you can use when writing learning objectives and compare that with our objectives above. We can see that asking a learner to make something is a more complex cognitive process than simply asking them to recognise something. The organisational goals your client is hoping to achieve and the complexity of what the learners are expected to do will dictate the cognitive process.
Examples of verbs to start your learning objectives
recall, list, define, describe, identify, match, name, and recognise
convert, explain, express, paraphrase, restate, and summarise
apply, choose, demonstrate, dramatize, employ, illustrate, interpret, operate, and solve
analyse, appraise, calculate, compare, contrast, criticize, differentiate, examine, and question
assess, compare, conclude, criticize, defend, estimate, judge, select, and support
combine, compose, construct, create, design, develop, formulate, generate, and write
What does this look like in a real eLearning course? We collaborated with a client team to create an eLearning course with the aim of raising awareness of what diversity, equality and inclusion mean in the workplace. There was no ask of the learners to create something. Instead, the SMEs felt it was important for learners to identify examples of these concepts (remembering). Your role is to ask the right questions of the SMEs you are collaborating with to uncover the need, so don’t feel obliged to create learning objectives that include the more complex processes if it doesn’t suit the client’s needs.
Ready to start delivering learning experiences that create real impact? Start a conversation and get in touch and begin your journey to delivering learning that works.