Learning Objectives: We're Doing it Wrong?

May 16, 2019

Hello Community,

I'd like to know people's thoughts/suggestions regarding effective learning objectives.

I'm currently reading Michael Allen's Designing Successful E-Learning, in which the author is very critical of LOs following "50-year-old models". Consider the following:

"a straightjacket that strips away any sense of build and wonder, almost guaranteed to bore more than enlighten. What other form of presentation would give the game away at the start? Would you go to the cinema and expect to hear the objectives of the film before you start? It's time we moved on from this old and now dated theory using what we've learnt about the brain and the clever use of media."

Maybe for comparison and discussion, you could provide some interesting examples of what you consider to be good and bad learning objectives...

14 Replies
Judy Nollet

Based on what I recall from his book and from attending some of his presentations, there's nothing wrong with learning objectives themselves (well, assuming they're well-written objectives). In fact, they're vital to good instructional design.

What he's against is showing them to the learner in the typical "After you complete this course, you will be able to: blah, blah, blah..." list at the beginning of a course. Instead, it's more important -- and more effective -- to provide motivation and meaning. In other words, don't tell them what you want them to learn. Let them know what's in it for them.

Sam Howell

Hi Judy,

Yes, it appears that way to me too. The trick is to hook the learner with genuine incentive. It's something I'm now much more conscious of, yet unfortunately there still seems to be the expectation (at least where I work) to roll out the classic "By the end of this course, you'll be able to: ..." at the beginning of every piece of learning.

I'd like to move away from this traditional model, but I think it'll take time to find a more effective alternative which I can use confidently going forward.

Karl Muller

I totally agree with this statement:

"Instead, it's more important -- and more effective -- to provide motivation and meaning. In other words, don't tell them what you want them to learn. Let them know what's in it for them."

The best hook and incentive for adult learners is understanding the personal relevance of the course / module / lesson.

Judy Nollet


I do a lot of compliance training, and the company likes to have objectives in the course. Instead of listing them on a slide within the main content, I add a player-level button (i.e., up there with Glossary and Resources) called "Course Objectives." That opens an otherwise hidden slide with the usual "You will be able to" list. So it's there for those who want it, but it's not in the way.

Sam Howell

That's a nice idea, Judy, I'll have to remember it!

Ordinarily, I'll have LOs appear in a popup after the learner presses on an icon. I may have to try your idea soon: subtle, out of the way, but there if they want reference, instead of being shown at the beginning, forgetting them, then being shown them again at the end.

This is the model I've been using up till now...

"By the end of this course, you'll be able to: ... / You should now be able to: ...

  • Verb
  • Verb
  • Verb"


Eric Rowland

LOs are important are critical for the business unit that is requesting the training. The LO's serve as a "work order" - and I mean they give the design team direction for creating content, that matches what the business unit needs help with. I rarely ever list out the objectives in a traditional format. I tend to use stories, and the objectives are put in as part of the story. 

Steve Hazelton

I find it interesting how many of the above folks have used the word "hook" - because that is exactly what I years ago nicknamed my second slide (after the title slide). I rarely create courses because someone wants to learn something. I create them because someone else wants to assign it out to others in the hope that they learn something. My first question to a requestor is always "Why does this course need to exist and why it is important for the assigned staff to pay attention to its content?" I still want objectives from the requestor, but I start with the hook and then use the objectives as my framework for the content and the key summary points.

Ulises Musseb

For some reason that I fail to find, the LO thing keeps coming up. Not sure why that particular aspect of ID is such a point of discussion. Here are my thoughts:

LOs are one of the most important aspects of learning design. Why on Earth would anyone want to start delivering learning without having a clear idea of what is to be accomplished with it?

LOs are presented to learners differently than the way we, learning professionals see them and use them. Learners don't need to know the design aspects of learning, they just need to know what they are learning, and why they are learning it.

LOs don't have to be a boring list at the beginning of the course "At the end of this course, you will be able to..." type. The use and purpose of the information being delivered can be presented within a context, as story telling, or as the means to an end.

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