Writing good learning objectives
If you don't know where you're going, you'll end up someplace else"
What could be easier than writing learning objectives, right?
Imagine you're a trainer and you want to get a manager to give meaningful feedback to her team. You might write the following objective: "Learners will be able to give meaningful feedback to the team."
But hang on! How will you and the manager know when you've achieved this objective?
Using the statement above, it's impossible to say. If the basic definition of learning is "changing behaviour", what will the learner do after her training that's different from her behaviour before the training?
Having spotted this problem many years ago, the academics came along and complicated learning objectives. And they were right to do so, because they'd identified a problem with the way many of them were being expressed.
Consider the following learning objective for a social services training course: "Learners will understand the government guidelines on supporting carers of older citizens."
But how can you measure that, exactly? How can you know what's going on in the learner's head and decide she "understands" the guidelines?
Robert Mager's classic book "Preparing Instructional Objectives" suggests instead that an objective ought to describe what the learner will actually be DOING when they've achieved it. There are plenty of ways to rewrite that objective, this is just one example: "Learners will be able to give an accurate summary of booklet B325 "Guidelines on Supporting Carers of Older People"."
So learning objectives need to be measurable and behaviour changes need to be observable.
Thanks to those academics complicating things, training courses these days do seem to have much more realistic learning objectives. But still, you can see vague learning objectives spoiling a lot of programmes and making them less useful for learners and teachers alike.