Write better learning objectives in 3 easy steps

The most effective trainers are those who can guide the whole learning process from the very beginning. And the best way to kick off that process is by setting several clear learning objectives.

By Kasper Spiro on Nov 12th

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Those learning objectives are more than just a list of topics covered by your course. They should provide an overview of all the specific skills and knowledge your learners will have absorbed once they’ve finished.

In other words, if your learning objectives clearly answer the question “What will I learn from this course?”, then you’ve come up with the right ones.
Identifying precise outcomes can sometimes be tricky. This is why we’ve come up with a simple, three-part formula that’ll help you come up with some great learning objectives.

1. Think in terms of “change”

Remember that learning is always a process of change. Learners start a course with a particular level of knowledge, and throughout the course, they then absorb further expertise. As soon as they’ve completed it, they’ve hopefully grown into a more knowledgeable and skilled individual.

By thinking about your course in this way, you can pinpoint exactly where the changes in an individual’s knowledge and skills will occur. Those areas of change will give you a first glimpse into what your learning objectives may look like.

When identifying these areas of change, many trainers use the so-called ASK model, which stands for Attitude, Skills, and Knowledge.

If the course emphasis is on changing the way an employee feels about a topic, then attitude is your focus. Your learning objective is to “change the learner’s attitude” about a specific topic.

On the other hand, if your course is about teaching new skills, then the learning objective is to “change the learner’s skill set.” Similarly, if the course focuses on offering new knowledge, then its learning objective is to “change or increase the learner’s knowledge” about that particular topic.

2. Think in terms of “action”

Now you’re clear about which areas of change your course is targeting, you’ll need to choose which type of actions you want your learners to be able to take, once they’ve finished it.

The more specific you get in identifying those actions, the clearer the purpose of your course. That’s why it’s best to avoid overly vague action words like “to understand”, or “to learn”. Instead, focus on tangible, specific action verbs like the ones we’ve listed below for each of the ASK categories:

Attitude

Choose / Comply / Decide / Evaluate / Recommend / Select / Support

Skills

Build / Calculate / Design / Prepare / Repair / Resolve / Sell / Update

Knowledge

Describe / Explain / Identify / List / Memorize / Recognize / Write

Think about the course you’re working on right now, or maybe one you’ve designed in the past. Which of these three areas of change fit best (step 1)? And which of the above verbs most accurately apply (step 2)? Now, try and combine the answer to both questions by writing or re-writing your learning objective(s).

Let’s say you’re looking to train new customer support employees on how to resolve a specific software issue (“XYZ”) with the help of a particular technology. Your objective would most likely fall into the skills category. In that case, a possible learning objective would be “to help customers resolve issue XYZ by installing a software update.”

3. Think in terms of refining and narrowing down your objectives

You’ve now established a primary learning objective, but you’ll need to make it more specific and include further detail. That detail should focus on the particular circumstances that are relevant for your learners.

A useful model for this is the ABCD model. It states that each learning objective should mention which audience, behavior, conditions, and degree of mastery it relates to:

  • Audience: Exactly who’s doing the learning (All employees? Customer support reps? Sales reps? New hires?)
  • Behavior: What’s the specific new behavior this audience will acquire? (Refer to step 2 and choose an appropriate action verb)
  • Conditions: In which setting and circumstances can they use this new attitude, skill, or knowledge?
  • Degree of mastery: To what extent will the audience be able to perform the new action on their own once they’ve completed the course?

So, expanding on the example we used earlier, the complete learning objective might sound like this: “All customer support reps will be able to independently help customers install a software update to resolve the specific known issue XYZ.”

Conclusion

By following these three quick steps, you’ll be able to write clear and specific learning objectives in no time.

Your learners will gain a much better understanding of which skills and knowledge they can expect to gain from the course. They’ll also appreciate why it’s crucial they complete it.

If you’d like some practical support with a course you’re working on right now, Easygenerator has developed a handy Learning Objective Maker. It’ll guide you through the process every step of the way.

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About the author

Kasper Spiro is the CEO of Easygenerator and a recognized thought leader in the world of e-learning. With over 30 years of experience, he is a frequently asked keynote speaker and well-renowned blogger within the e-learning community.

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