What if Learning Objectives really are essential?

Apr 24, 2018

In creating a course on how to write learning objectives I've looked at research, blogs and discussions. There are tomes of theory and plenty of opinions, but nothing that I actually found as a compelling reason as to why they are important. Then I tried to distill it down to one thought. "Why learning objectives should be important to the learner." 

Learning objectives (should) tell you what behavior, skill or performance you will held accountable for after attending training. What you should be able to DO.  And if your not going to be held accountable, why are you attending the training in the first place? 

As a learner, if positioned this way, I would want to know this. Am I crazy? Is this a new way to think about LOs? I would really like to hear your thoughts.

4 Replies
Nicole Legault

Hey there Ruth!

Thanks for posting your question here in the E-Learning Heroes forums! That's a great topic of discussion, thanks for bringing it up.  I agree 100% with what you're saying about how training is teaching someone how TO DO something (although I do feel like whether or not you're being held accountable is important, and will perhaps impact the performance of the task, I think that's a bit of a separate issue). 

Here is how I identify learning objectives:

When I develop training, I use the ADDIE Model. The first step in ADDIE (and arguably, one of the most critical) is the Analysis. I do several types of analyses, but one of those is a task analysis. During a task analysis I identify "what are the specific tasks that learners need to learn TO DO in this training?" . Then I will breakdown those tasks into subtasks and steps. That content then becomes my core course content/material (here's more on that: How to do a Task Analysis Like a Pro). Of course I will supplement the tasks with additional important information such as the WHY behind t ask or What the trigger is for a task to occur. But fundamentally, the tasks/subtasks/steps are what create my main content.

The tasks that I've identified in the task analysis become the learning objectives. 

For example: Let's say a manager is implementing a new computer system at the company and I'm designing training for some sales reps who need to learn how to use the new system. When I do my task analysis I might uncover that the tasks learners need to do in the system are :

1) login to the system 
2) place a new order
3) verify order status 
4) cancel orders
5) logout of the system 

Those tasks then become the learning objectives of my training. When you think about it in terms of: 


It really becomes quite simple to identify learning objectives. I like to keep it simple myself! :) Hope this helps.  

Trevor Peglowski


I am SO into learning objectives, it's almost sad. I definitely agree that LOs should be what the learner should be able to DO. This helps to set the participant up for what their new skills will be, creates buy in from management, AND allows you to measure training success. If your LO is "Participants will be able to input customer orders with an error rate below 3%", you can measure that. Where as if you say "Understand our order taking system", that's hard to measure.

I always use the 'Hey mom' test. If you can't put your objective after the phrase 'hey mom' and have it make sense, it needs more work. "Hey mom, watch me  input customer orders with an error rate below 3%" works, while Hey mom, watch me understand this order taking system" does not :)


EDIT: Forgot to mention, I also like to think of learning objectives as SMART goals. This is something SMEs tend to have a better grasp on, so it helps them start in a similar way of thinking. 

Christy Tucker

I have never heard of the "hey mom!" test before, but I am going to steal that from you!

Julie Dirksen talks about the "photo test" for behaviors. If we were to take a photo or video of the behavior we want, what would it look like? "Improve customer service" doesn't meet the photo test, but "Respond to customer objections about price using XYZ strategy" does.

Joshua Shnider

Ultimately, this depends on the audience, but I think about from the backwards design/curriculum design perspective:

  1. What do the learners need to be able to do?
    1. What requisite knowledge do they need to have before they learn to do said task?
    2. What are the requisite smaller skills to acquire or steps to take to work their way up to the thing they need to be able to do?
  2. What critical thinking skills do the learners need to acquire to take that action beyond the simple "do-ing" of that task? (this will obviously depend upon the client and audience)

Normally it's based off of those questions that I get my objectives, along with gathering customer requirements.

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