Learning & Development

7 Simple Steps to Write Effective Learning Objectives

When you’re planning a training program, you have specific learning objectives or goals in mind. It’s the reason that you have the training program in the first place.

Maybe it’s to decrease implicit bias or improve soft skills. It could be to teach specific techniques to upskill or reskill teams.

Whatever the case, this guide will help you write learning objectives that facilitate meaningful growth.

What are learning objectives?

Learning objectives are statements that describe what information, skills, and behaviors learners should be able to demonstrate after receiving training. Objectives for employee learning can be broken down into three components: performance, conditions, and criteria.

Performance - SMART learning objectives focus on performance aspects such as what the employee will learn or be able to do once the learning track is complete. Writing this learning objective should contain an action verb.

Conditions - this objective describes the circumstances under which the employee will learn. These conditions can include what tools the learners will use (such as a modern LMS), situations, environments, or restrictions to direct and structure the learning path.

Criteria - describes the required level of performance quality. Criteria are about measuring the results of learning such as productivity levels, degree of excellence, and accuracy.

The gap identification is called a training needs analysis and the actionable steps are learning measures or initiatives. Learning objectives should be relevant, specific, and meaningful to get the most out of the learning process.

Learning objectives should answer "What do I want people to learn here?"

Benefits of Learning Objectives

But besides this overarching goal, smart trainers identify more granular learning objectives. These objectives provide direction for smaller chunks of training. And they have many benefits

  • Tell trainees what they should pay attention to
  • Tell trainers what they should be focusing on
  • Show stakeholders how successful training was
  • Make assessment easier
  • Help instructors gain insight into the learning process

Writing learning objectives that provide these benefits, however, can be difficult. There’s a surprising amount of thought that goes into each objective.

Let’s take a look at how you should go about writing quality learning objectives.

How to write learning objectives

1. Separate learning goals from objectives

While some people define learning objectives and goals in the same way, many hold that there’s an important difference.

- Learning goals are long-term and broad. They lay out the general goal for the training or course, and they may not be measurable.

- Learning objectives are a focused, measurable target that guides your training or teaching over a shorter period of time. You might set a learning objective for a single training session or a unit of training.

Each learning objective should support your learning goal. If it does, and you keep it specific, you’ll have a meaningful objective that learners can understand and trainers can pursue.

2. Break objectives into ASK

If you’ve been in the training world for a while, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of the ASK model of learning: Attitudes, Skills, and Knowledge. To influence behavior, you’ll need to change all three.

  • Knowledge is simply being aware of something. In training, knowledge is often demonstrated by being able to recite information or concepts.
  • Skill is the ability to do something. It requires demonstration beyond reciting facts, though knowledge is usually required to implement a new skill.
  • Attitude is how a person feels about something. It’s very complex, difficult to measure, and can take a long time to shift. If an employee has a negative attitude about an issue, they won’t put their skills to use.

Learning objectives usually focus on a single one of these areas.

To sum it up, ensure your training program is effective in influencing each area of learning. Employees need to expand their knowledge, improve their skills, and have a better attitude toward learning AND their job.

3. Use action verbs

When writing learning objectives, you should focus on action verbs related to these areas. It's best practice to avoid using multiple action verbs for each level of employee training.

Attitude action verbs

  • Collaborate
  • Advocate
  • Influence
  • Facilitate
  • Motivate

These seem difficult to measure, especially early in the learning process. Still, attitude change is one of the foremost objectives of training, so it’s good to include these types of action verbs within your objectives when you can.

Knowledge action verbs

  • Recite
  • Identify
  • Classify
  • Infer
  • Quote

If a learner can do these things with the information presented in the training, you can conclude that they gained knowledge.

For example, we may want learners to “identify differences between product features and solutions.” That would indicate that learners have gained enough product knowledge training to differentiate the two.

Skills action verbs

  • Demonstrate
  • Use
  • Enact
  • Compute
  • Operate

For example, trainees may have a learning objective like “demonstrate the ability to create a Gantt chart for listed project tasks.” If trainees can do that, they’ve gained Gantt charting skills.

As your training program progresses, you may want to move from knowledge- to skills- to attitudes-based learning objectives. Or you may want to integrate skills earlier in the process to make the training as practical as possible.

Spend some time thinking about your objectives and how they relate to these three goals.

What About Bloom’s Taxonomy?

Many training professionals use Bloom’s taxonomy when designing their learning objectives.

You can choose action verbs and objectives related to each of the elements of the taxonomy. You might also use the ABCD model (audience, behavior, condition, degree) to create specific learning objectives.

We’re showing you the ASK formula here because it’s simple, easy to remember, and covers most of the elements mentioned in both other frameworks. The key is to use a single framework and stick with it so you can continue measuring similar objectives.

4. Make specific objectives

At the end of a learning session or a training course, you need to be able to say whether you met your objectives or not.

“Get people on board with performance management” can’t be measured. You can’t prove whether you’ve succeeded.

“Mid-level managers and supervisors will be able to complete a performance management feedback session,” however, is measurable. You can put those managers and supervisors in a situation where they have to give feedback and determine whether or not it was successful.

The more specific you can be in your learning objectives, the better. Remember that each objective should support your overarching learning goal.

Training Objectives

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5. Plan your measurements ahead of time

When brainstorming learning objectives, you don’t need to get caught up on practicalities. Set out your learning goals, then think about the smaller steps that learners will need to take to get there.

Before you start the training itself, however, you should have a clear plan on how you’re going to determine whether learners met the objectives. And that may affect how you define your objectives.

Learning goals shouldn’t be defined by what you’re able to measure. But the specific objectives that you pursue on your way to those goals may change based on how you can assess those objectives. It’s something to keep in mind while you’re planning.

6. Develop reasonable objectives

It’s easy to get excited and carried away when you’re writing learning objectives. And when you’re part of the training and development world, you might forget that people have jobs, goals, lives, and problems outside of your trainings.

You need to make sure that your objectives for learning are reasonable. You can’t expect trainees to learn an entire career’s worth of knowledge in a few sessions.

It’s difficult to provide advice on what’s reasonable, as every group is different. Subject areas differ as well. In the end, you’ll have to draw from experience and industry benchmarks when determining whether your objectives are reasonable.

Don’t hesitate to update your objectives as you continue through a training program. If you were too aggressive in choosing objectives (or too conservative), you can alter them to better fit the learning pace of your group.

7. Simplify your objectives

When you start thinking in detail about your learning goals and objectives, you can get drawn into the details. You might come up with a long list of objectives, or start outlining objectives that are very complex.

You’ll find a better reception—and more success—when you keep your learning objectives simple. Why? Because learners better engage with simple objectives.

Share your learning objectives with employees, it'll give them a better idea of the skills or knowledge they'll receive.

Opening a training by telling learners that they’re going to be able to “convince a panel that X product is the best in the industry” is a complex objective.

However, explaining that they’ll gain the skills to “effectively present value propositions” is simpler and more realistic.

Take the time to write better learning objectives

This might sound like a lot of work—especially because you’ll have to go through this for each session or unit before you even start planning the lessons.

And you’re right; it can take up a good chunk of your time. But writing learning objectives with these points in mind will help you better define what it is you’re going to accomplish.

This is also a solid way of measuring the ROI of your training.

Instructional designers will know what each session should focus on. Trainers will know which points to emphasize. Learners will know what they need to absorb. And everyone will know how they’re going to be assessed. It makes for more effective training all around.

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