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Jul 2009

Our objection to learning objectives

Blog posts

Cammy Bean

Cammy Bean

Senior Solutions Consultant at Kineo US

After reading this post, you will be able to:

  • explain two of the reasons why we don't like traditional learning objectives
  • describe your own view of learning objectives
  • develop an alternative approach to listing learning objectives in your next e-learning course

Do your elearning programmes typically start with something like this? Quite gripping, isn't it?

Let's talk about some other options.

 Objection, your honour!

I hate writing learning objectives. I see the value. I do. At least from the instructional designer's and the business's point of view. Learning objectives clarify exactly what it is you're trying to teach. But I find them painfully boring to read and to write.

Learning objectives tell the learner what's going to be in the course, and they help the learner focus on what’s important as they go through the content. And yet one could argue that most learners don't even bother reading them.

As Michael Allen says in Michael Allen's Guide to E-learning: "Learners think, 'I'm supposed to do my best to learn whatever is here, so I might as well spend all my time learning it rather than reading about learning it'." 

The traditional objectives page is one that I always click next on, to slide right on by. They so often sound like they were written by robots.

How about you? Do you take the time to read those objectives? Really?

Break the rules

One approach, as Cathy Moore demonstrates so well, is to write better objectives. See her post: Makeover: Turn Objectives into Motivators.

Michael Allen thinks better-written objectives are a start, but wonders if any form of the "textual listing of objectives [is] really the best way to sell anyone on learning". He urges instructional designers to break the rules: "Don't list objectives".

Instead, provide some meaningful and memorable experiences using interactivity, graphics, animation, and storytelling. Ask questions that pique the learner's interest and get them focused.

We’re not suggesting that you hide the objectives. But change things up a bit. Lose the text bullets written with the required verbs from Bloom’s Taxonomy. Help the learner organise the learning experience, but do it in a more interesting way.

Allen suggests some alternatives to listing out boring learning objectives in text bullet form:

  • Put the Learner to Work: Have the learner attempt a task. If they fail, they'll know what they should be able to do when they finish your programme (hopefully, complete that task).
  • Use Drama: Create a scenario showing the risk of what could happen if the learner doesn't learn the content – and the benefits that will happen when they do.
  • Create a Game Quiz: Instead of a traditional boring assessment, create a game-like quiz. Based on their performance, learners will see if they are beginners or advanced, and where their gaps in knowledge might lie. And they'll be able to see what kinds of tasks they should be able to do at the end of the course. Check out Karl Kapp's Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning for some simple game ideas.

Have you experimented with alternatives to listing out learning objectives? Have you tried to eliminate the traditional learning objectives page and gotten some pushback?

This is an encore performance of a post that originally appeared on Cammy's Learning Visions Blog, December 20, 2007.

Cammy Bean

Cammy Bean

Senior Solutions Consultant at Kineo US

Cammy has been collaborating with organizations to design online learning programs since 1996. An active speaker and blogger, Cammy gets fired up about instructional design, avoiding the trap of clicky-clicky bling-bling, and ways to use technology to create real behavior change.