My Little Secret about Learning Objectives!

The other day I was going through some eLearning blog posts and stumbled onto a not so old blog post by Cammy Bean. It was about Learning Objectives and her objections to it! πŸ™‚

It made me nostalgic and took me back to my college days when I was studying B.Ed. Our Profs explained us the taxonomies, components, and levels of objectives during that course. They also provided us with enough and more opportunities to practice writing instructional objectives. After all the concepts were taught, we were ready to create the Lesson Plans.

As expected, we had to write the learning objectives first and then flesh out the lesson plan with learning interactions and activities based on those objectives. So, here’s my little secret around it: I always decided the learning interactions and flow of the lesson first (coz that was the most interesting part) and then wrote the learning objectives.

Another secret πŸ˜‰
I never changed! I still do the same for eLearning courses! Yes, I still create the objectives screen in the end, if it’s a mandate by the client to add one. My preferred way is to ditch the objectives screen and start the course with something worthwhile and interesting that can motivate learners to take the course. Most of the times, I love to start with a story they can relate to and situations they are familiar with. Here’s an example introduction screen:

When you start a course with a relevant story and make the learner in charge of the situation, the interest level to take the course increases. But you need to carefully craft the story so that it covers all the important objectives you want the learners to achieve. Yes, I agree with Cammy here as well that letting the learners know about the objectives is important. πŸ™‚

Time for some reactions from you:

  • Is this approach better than starting with those (boring) bullet points?
  • I love to start my course with a story. What’s your take on it?

Do let me know by leaving a comment on this post…

24 Responses

  1. I know what you mean about the design process — Once you have an understanding of the content and the performance context, you know, in an unstated way, what the objectives are. Further, if you focus on interactions that hinge on application of the content, rather than simple recall (unless the goal is fluency or “knowledge in the head”), your course essentially designs itself.

    Not to be doctrinaire, but as I see it, formal Instructional Objectives are essential to Formative Evaluation (I know, hardly anyone does it). It may be absolutely clear to the ID that the course accomplishes the objectives, but it may not be so clear to an expert evaluator without the same command of the content or context.

    It’s the same reason medical doctors have to become fluent in anatomy; success (patient safety) depends on crystal-clear communication, and appropriate treatment frequently depends on consensus, which itself depends on fluency.

    If you fly solo, by all means do as you see fit; however, if your team does ID reviews throughout (or at least early into) the ADDIE cycle, formal objectives will make it easier on everyone.

    Regarding stories: Facts tell, but stories sell. An engaging (and even better, a compelling) story reaches learners’ affective domains and makes whatever is taught, more memorable to your learners. I’m all about the story.

    Thanks for the interesting post; we are scientists as well as artists, and it’s always good to question what we were taught and make sure the theory still fits the phenomena.


  2. I’ve suffered through many three-minute learning modules that spend an additional minute on the front end stating objectives and then, on the back end, stating them again to summarize what should have been learned. If your module is part of a larger course on, say, Microsoft Excel, and you have a module on printing, you hardly need to state and review objectives. In context, titling the module “Printing” takes care of both.

      • Or, if you write colloquially, just embed the objective in the page text or narration. In James’ example above, you could have, “Now that we’ve learned how to format your document, let’s print it out.” As far as the learner’s concerned, the expectations for the module are set.


        Carlos Rubinstein

  3. I do think your approach is more effective. I consume massive amounts of eLearning products and the standard format gets a bit dull.

    When the author of the course can relay the “bullet points” through the use of a story or example, it engages the reader and, in my opinion, makes the material easier to retain.

    So, keep doing what you are doing!

  4. I’ve always objected to the “tell the what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them” model of instruction. Once you’ve told me, I don’t need to be told again…and just because you TOLD me doesn’t mean that you’ve TAUGHT me. If I’m not engaged, I’m not learning. Yes, starting with a story or some other item to grab the learner and in which to anchor the rest of what is to be taught works much better than starting with a dull set of bullet points. God save me from bullet lists of dull objectives.
    P.S. I’ve always done it backwards too. πŸ™‚

  5. I agree with u pooja. I know an emotional person like u wud always take care of the emotional need of the learner which not only involves the learner but leaves him more satisfied with the whole learning process. keep it up

  6. I believe in starting with the learning outcomes or the end in mind. These are your objectives with the learner as the center of the reason you are designing anything at all. “The learner will…” The focus of what you are doing is then clear and keeps you on track to a good result in the end. How you evalutate the objectives must be closely linked to the objectives and I work that out next, then the lesoon with a high level of interactivity to get to that place comes easy.

  7. Not convinced. It is OK to omit for a elEarning course which has been mandated for an audience. However if I am a self learner I would like to know whether the objectives of the module match my own before I start with the module. For the author the objectives are a must to stay focused so that one does not get carried away and design something which is very interesting but gets away from what was required to teach.

    • Thanks for stopping by Ananth and letting us know about your views! πŸ™‚

      I agree that self-learners need to know the objectives before they dive into the course, but then isn’t the best place for objectives the course description on LMS, rather than inside the course as a course screen? Let me know what you feel about it…

  8. I like this approach much better than the standard objectives presentation! They are so boring! Even though adults are known to what to know what they will be learning before they start learning it, they also don’t really like to learn from lists. This approach is attention getting and seems like a great way to get the learner to buy into what will happen next.

  9. I like using a simple road map, it just gives a rough guide to where they are at any point and sets the big picture in their mind.

    Don’t just ignore old models, make them better. Getting the big picture into your learners mind makes the transition of knowledge so much easier. A reason why the old “tell them…” method worked.

    Also, never assume that what works for one group of people will work for another. Changing for the sake of changing is not the answer, changing to make learning an easier transition is.

  10. I can see at least two differing opinions in all of these threads and it seems the main reason is that some are talking about how learning objectives are used to guide the e-learning design process while others are disagreeing because they’re talking about how learning objectives are expressed to the course participant in the actual course content.

    I don’t think anyone is actually saying that learning objectives should be abandoned as a design tool. I certainly find them invaluable for that. However, when it comes to giving the learner some kind of a heads up about what to expect in the content of a course or a course module, I would personally much rather break away from the standard (and very boring) bulleted list of statements that come straight out of the course design doc. At the very least, I’d prefer to phrase them as questions:

    For example, instead of:
    “By the end of this module you will be able to list five ways to improve safety.”

    Try something like:
    “Can you think of five ways to improve safety in the workplace, so that everyone can go home to their family after work?”

    However, although making e-learning more interesting and engaging is every Instructional Designers fervent dream, the reality in much of my professional life has been that most of my best ideas for doing so get torpedoed by some manager or corporate underling with a peripheral idea about learning design who mandates that: “All training courses MUST begin with clear and concise statements of learning objectives.” Sigh….

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