Do learners really care about the course objectives?

How much time do you devote to the course objectives? Being a "doer" type person, I scan them (at best) and ignore them completely (most often). While I realize their importance when designing the course, are they necessary to the learner.

Is it enough to link to them on the player? How do you provide them for those who want them and not waste time and audio budget for those who don't?

45 Replies
Cary Glenn

Those are objectives that the instructional designer/developer use and they are an important to developing the course. I would argue that how most instructional objectives are written are meaningless to the average learner. Learners want to know what is in it for them. There are more creative and better ways to focus attention on a particular point.

Cary Glenn
Bruce Graham

"If you do not follow these rules, every day, you will be subject to a disciplinary hearing, and most likely lose your job".

I always find that focuses the mind and motivates learning quite successfully......


That is great. I may have to use that. I should try this sometime, "Failure to comply with the procedures explained in this course may lead to death, dismemberment, or severe pain."

Jacinta Penn

Personally I pay a lot of attention to the performance objectives but not much to the course objectives. I sometimes put them in because the client wants it or because the industry feels that it sets the learner expectation, but I do think it can be the least engaging way to start a course. Oh but one exception is if I want to use it as a self-exploring menu.

John Nixdorf

Objectives provide a definitive statement of "here's what you will get out of this course." They answer for the student the question "why am I taking this course?"

Probably they're as much use keeping the SMEs and development team on track as they are for the student.

I've never had a development project with a good statement of objectives and content outline run off the rails.

Almost every development project without objectives and content outline has been a trial at best, and sometimes a nightmare.

Simon Blair

I hate seeing (and using) Bloom's style objectives in training.

What I care about (as a learner) is getting things done. As an ID, believe it's my job to understand the learner's job well enough that I can speak to them in those terms.

For example, e-mail training isn't about starting the mail client, opening e-mail and replying to messages. It's about staying in touch with your colleagues/clients. Macros training isn't about nested functions, it's about automating simple tasks so that you can get more done or focus on more important ones.

"People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole." - Theodore Levitt

Cynthia Riddle

I watched the video you linked about and I think the guy misses the entire point.  I love Mager because he is focused on what learners should be able to DO and what knowledge they need to DO something. The focus is not on acquiring knowledge but learning how to do something or do it better.

I don't think Mager's objectives need to be used with learners verbatim or even included in the learning but I do agree with others - providing the WIFM can help. But using them for the design is essential and I think we, as designers, risk our own credibility when we don't focus and design learning that teaches someone how to DO something.

I also think we have dug ourselves a bit of a hole when it comes to designing learning that is "entertaining." Our industry has spent so many years telling people what they think they need to know, that learners sit back and expect us to entertain them. Don't get me wrong, I think learning needs to be interactive and engaging but in the context of what someone needs to be able to do on-the-job and not just to keep learners interested in the course. I think, in some ways, we have created our own learning monsters. I would like to see us back away from the "we don't want to bore anyone" mind set and encourage learners to be accountable for their own skill building, which may mean including well-written objectives :)

Steve Flowers

We must have watched different videos. Will's implication isn't that we shouldn't use objectives for design. Nor that we shouldn't write those design objectives to focus on the audiences ability to do something. To close the gap between current state and ready state. His point was we should use them in the right places for the right purpose and construct the objectives specifically for the intended purpose rather than regurgitating the design objectives into the learning experience.

I don't think avoiding using clinical bulleted lists of three part objectives has much at all to do with making learning more fun. It's about not leading off the experience on the wrong foot. 

I like Mager as much as the next ID. "Hey, Dad watch me _____" is a great test of a design objective. But the three part objective listed in bullet form is a pretentious, irrelevant, lazy, and far too commonly used way to convey objectives to *most* audiences, in my opinion.

Unfortunately, I've seen folks spend a lot of time shoehorning a verb from a Bloom's list into a three part objective that far too often isn't even the right focus. All because they think starting with the objective, distilled from a pile of content, was the pattern that everyone else used.

It's OK to love objectives. I do. But we need a better strategy to use them to articulate expectations than...

When you've finished this course you will:

  • Given a list of arbitrarily chosen verbs derived from the content delivered to the designer, read each objective while retaining both consciousness and the will to continue.
  • Reduce alertness to near comatose levels as you miraculously rocket through the course using the next button with 100% deadly accuracy.
  • Answer each question we've placed at the end of the course with a high enough score that you can close the course, leave the sorrow behind, and probably never think about it again.

We can do better than that;)


Cary Glenn

One thing that has been bugging me lately about learning objectives is how similar the verbs are in several areas of Bloom's Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain. For instance in Analysis has "contrast" and "compare"  and Evaluation has "compare", these are very similar. I wrote too many essays in English classes where the subject was "Compare and Contrast".

The differences between Knowledge and Comprehension seem miniscule. Knowledge has define, name, and repeat; while, Comprehension has describe, identify, and tell.

My copy of "Designing Effective Instruction" includes a note, "Depending on the meaning for use, some verbs may apply to more than one level". How is this a taxonomy?

Cynthia Riddle
Steve Flowers

Given a list of arbitrarily chosen verbs derived from the content delivered to the designer, read each objective while retaining both consciousness and the will to continue.

Lol, fair enough! I don't think I've ever included Mager's format of the objectives in anything I've written.

Carlene Barton

Learning objectives are vital to make sure the course achieves what you need to leaner to, I think we can all agree there? However do they need to be set out so formally at the beginning of the course? I think they can sound off putting and corporate. Depending on your audience this is usually not a good thing. For me learning achieves the most when the learner doesn't feel they are in a formal learning environment.  I would much rather write a description that asks the leaner key questions to decide if the module Is right for them.

Each section should be kept to a maximum of 3 (or at most 4) objectives.

If you feel you need to make them visible within the module I would have them on a custom navigation ribbon at the bottom so the leaner click and 'pop them up' to read them or not. Or display them at the end and ask if they were achieved.

A learners objectives may not always match your own so follow this up by gathering feedback through a survey at the end of the course. It's this feedback that will tell you if there was any point to your objectives in the first place and whether they were achieved.

I know what you mean about being a 'doer' ;)

Hope this helps :)

Cary Glenn

I was doing some reading on this subject and I found this study

It shows that not listing the learning objectives to the learners made no significant difference to the test scores for the learner and that those same learners rated the course much more positive experience of the course.

Cynthia Riddle
Cary Glenn

It shows that not listing the learning objectives to the learners made no significant difference to the test scores for the learner and that those same learners rated the course much more positive experience of the course.

Lol, I agree, I don't think we necessarily have to include objectives in what we present to the learner. What I do think gets out of hand - worrying so much about the user having a "positive" experience that we focus too much on the "entertainment" factor at the expense of a good design in which the learner has to demonstrate something. Particularly when you are trying to sell management on the importance of practice - management sees "flashy" and thinks that is enough because "training" has been done as an information dump for so long. Does that make sense?

Bianka Kovacs

I think it's very important to use objectives that can be measurable, like GTC,I'm still using these either in class or eLearning course.I also tend to show them at the very end of the course for see if they achieved the goal established on the beginning. Also this is a great opportunity for the designer to show exactly what has been covered.If you need I can give you few example.