top of page

Write learning objectives

“What is the difference between performance goals, learning goals, and learning objectives?”

“How do learning objectives impact the rest of a design (e.g. instructional strategies, methods, and assessments)?”

“How should I collaborate with stakeholders and subject matter experts to define learning goals and learning objectives?”

“How should I write learning objectives?”


Have you ever taken an exam that included material you didn't learn in class? Have you ever attended a course where the instructor dwelled on a topic that felt superfluous? Learning designers can prevent these issues by collaborating with stakeholders and subject matter experts on writing learning objectives and using those to anchor subsequent design and development decisions. By working together, learning designers can write defined learning objectives that support performance and learning goals and positively impact the rest of the design.


Through this lesson, you should be able to write learning objectives.


What is the difference between performance goals, learning goals, and learning objectives?


As defined in Create a detailed design, performance goals are high-level outcomes desired by an organization that are typically provided by project stakeholders (e.g. business leaders). They determine the critical success factors of a project and answer the following questions: what’s the problem to be solved, and what does it take to solve the problem?


Learning goals (also known as learning outcomes) are high-level goals that identify specific and measurable knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) that learners need to achieve through a learning product or program. They are derived from performance goals.


Learning objectives are a series of statements that outline specific and measurable knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) that learners need to achieve in a specific learning deliverable (e.g. course, module) to support performance and learning goals. They are derived from learning goals, and are more specific than performance goals and learning goals.



For example, if you worked for an environmental department at a local landfill, you might write the following objectives based on these performance and learning goals:

  • Performance goal: Reduce consumer waste in the city landfill by 25% during the next fiscal year.

  • Learning goal: Apply best practices for reducing consumer waste.

  • Learning objectives: By the end of the community event, households will be able to:

    • Evaluate current practices of disposing of household items.

    • Differentiate between recyclable items and municipal waste.

    • Organize recyclable items and municipal waste in their proper storage bins.

Performance goals, learning goals, and learning objectives – when clearly defined and adhered to – help ensure critical success factors are met.


How do learning objectives impact the rest of a design (e.g. instructional strategies, methods, and assessments)?


Learning objectives should align with instructional strategies, methods, and assessments so they reinforce one another. In other words, all parts of a design should primarily include content, learning activities, and assessments that support objectives. Any additional content not pertinent to the objectives should be reserved for appendices or other optional resources.



How should I collaborate with stakeholders and subject matter experts to define learning goals and learning objectives?


Before working with stakeholders and subject matter experts, it's important to understand and clarify roles. Stakeholders reinforce business drivers. Subject matter experts provide expertise and context around real-world application. Designers create instructionally sound learning experiences and materials to support them. Depending on your workplace, these responsibilities may vary or overlap. When collaborating with stakeholders and SMEs to define learning goals and learning objectives, we recommend the following four-step process:


  1. Ask stakeholders and SMEs probing questions to define what “success” looks like on the job.

  2. Collaborate with SMEs to conduct a task analysis to discover how that success criteria is met in practice.

  3. Collaborate with SMEs to identify the knowledge, skills, and abilities a learner must possess in order to complete those tasks.

  4. Write measurable objectives using Bloom’s taxonomy.


How should I write learning objectives?


As discussed in Create a detailed design, designers typically turn to Bloom’s taxonomy when writing learning objectives to identify the appropriate knowledge and skill levels required and what actionable verbs to use. When writing objectives, designers also consider how objectives will be assessed.


Some common mistakes when writing objectives include:

  • Not supporting learning goals at the appropriate level (e.g. an application goal supported by remember-level objectives only)

  • Writing instructional content first and then writing objectives that align (This infers that the hierarchy of performance objectives, learning goals, and objectives was not followed.)

  • Using ambiguous verbs that cannot be measured, such as “Know” and “Understand”


Airport training: a learning project case study


Amir and Kristine are learning design consultants, and they have been asked to design and develop an eLearning course to help airport staff recognize signs of human trafficking and report suspicious activity to authorities. Amir has already completed the analysis, and now Kristine is working on the design document. After writing the learning audience description, she is ready to collaborate with subject matter experts to define the learning objectives.


Kristine sets up a call with the subject matter experts to define what "success" looks like - step by step - and identify what learners must know / do to reach that success criteria.


Shown below are the performance goals, learning goals (and required KSAs to achieve them), and learning objectives that Kristine helped the subject matter expert team define during the call.


Summary and next steps


Learning objectives are derived from and support performance goals and learning goals. They strongly impact the rest of the design, reinforcing instructional strategies, methods, and assessments. While collaborating effectively with stakeholders and subject matter experts, you should be able to write learning objectives that clearly define what learners specifically need to achieve. As a result, you will design effective learning solutions that will make a positive difference to any problem.


Now that you are familiar with writing learning objectives, continue to the next lesson in LXD Factory’s Design series: Select learning modalities.

Comments


bottom of page