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How to Write Learning Objectives for eLearning in 2020

Shirley Deutsch
Updated September 10 2020
How to Write Learning Objectives for eLearning in 2020
Shirley Deutsch
Updated September 10 2020

If you’re like me, in your day-to-day, you might say ‘goal’ one moment and ‘objective’ the next. The only difference being 5 characters and a couple of syllables. Before we dive into how to write learning objectives, we’ll have to clarify a couple of key terms. We’re running the risk of sinking a little too deeply into semantics, but it’s worthwhile to note the differences between e-learning learning goals and e-learning learning objectives.


Goals are broad—they lay out a long-term vision. A learning goal is like the course summary you send out to folks to get them excited about the course. It’s lofty and generally not specific and often not measurable. “Upon completing this product management course, you will have the skills necessary to deliver your product.”


That’s great. I want to become a better product manager, but how do I get there through this course? What are the specific steps to get me there, and how will I know I’m better on the other side?


These aren’t rhetorical questions. Answering them is key to convincing management that the course is valuable, and illustrating ROI afterward, but it is also key to compelling learners to buy-in. That’s where e-learning learning objectives come into play.


Learning objectives are specific, focused, and measurable. They define a single outcome and use strong measurable terms and action verbs to establish a clear target. This is where we meet Bloom’s Taxonomy, a hierarchically organized list of skills that assist in maximizing learning. Let’s take, for example, the act of creating a product roadmap. Creating a product roadmap is only one step in delivering a product, but it’s an important step. After completing a virtual instructor-led class or a chapter in an online course on creating product roadmaps, I will be able to create my own product roadmap. Step by step, learning objective by learning objective, I will be able to accomplish my learning goal.


So, with that in mind, let’s see how to write learning objectives of online learning.


1. Identify Your Audience


When building your online course, whether synchronous or asynchronous or a blend of both, you need to think about who you are trying to reach. Are you in a learning & development department looking to improve leadership skills among your top managers? Or, are you tasked with onboarding new employees destined to be tomorrow’s leaders? Maybe you been tasked with conducting a class entirely online for the first time? Are you teaching young students or adult learners, and have they encountered online learning in the past? Understanding who your learners are will help you define your learning goals and help you write practical online learning objectives.


Different groups learn in various manners.  Once you identify your audience, you can tailor it to be received most quickly and effectively. For the sake of making this practical, let’s say that we are building a course for those interested in becoming product managers. Maybe they have a technical background. Perhaps they have a marketing background. Either way, we’re looking to build a course that appeals to would-be product managers.


2. Define Learning Goals


You don’t get into the car without knowing where you are going unless you’re just out for a drive, but let’s stick with this metaphor without overthinking it. To start, you must set your destination. Define the vision or overall learning goal for your online course. In this case, “Upon completing this product management course, you will have the skills necessary to deliver your product.” This course is an introductory course in product management. We already identified our audience – would be product managers – and now we have a defined learning goal for our learners to aspire to. Now what? How do they get there? Now that we have our goal, we can start to think about the concrete steps we can take to accomplish it.


This goal is the pin on the map on the other side of the country. We can’t just jump from point A to point Z. Our learning path is built of milestones and clear objectives that provide learners the confidence to continue onward to accomplish their goals. Everyone benefits from getting small successes under their belt. These small successes help indicate to the learner, the instructor, and management that progress is being made. New skills are being acquired. With that, we can confidently move forward.


3. Determine Your Measurements of Success


Great! We’ve successfully defined our learning goal and have started thinking about the steps necessary to get there. Our learning goal may not be measurable, but our learning objectives must be.


Our learning goal for our product management course is for learners to gain the skills necessary to deliver a product. Our learners must have the knowledge and ability to apply what they have learned to be successful. If the learning goal requires a diverse set of skills, then we should experiment with the course format. Specific units with defined objectives can be delivered in a variety of methods with different criteria for success.


Consider the need for learners to memorize key concepts. You can use microlearning like a video or reading material in an on-demand format. You can create a quiz to evaluate learners’ understanding when they complete the video or finish reading. A simple questionnaire is a great way to measure one’s understanding of concepts they need to simply know – facts, figures, core concepts.


A cognitive psychologist by the name of Henry L. Roediger III of Washington University studies how the brain stores and receives memories.  And even though there was a backlash against too much testing, that it destroys the morale of the student, Roediger III supports the previously held view on the positive nature of tests, and explains, “Taking a test on material can have a greater positive effect on future retention of that material than spending an equivalent amount of time restudying the material.” You can also use out of the box features such as interactive path videos, which allow viewers to play an active role by choosing their preferred actions and learning paths. Maybe we want to take their understanding to the next level. Assign them a task to describe the concepts in an open answer or open paper. You can even have them discuss the material in a synchronous session with their peers, where they consider and elaborate upon the content. These are effective ways to measure and evaluate learner understanding.

4. Employ Dr. Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a classification system or framework used by educators to create assessments, learning paths, and even learning objectives of online learning. It orders cognitive behaviors into 6 hierarchical levels of complexity.


  1. Knowledge
    2. Comprehension
    3. Application
    4. Analysis
    5. Synthesis
    6. Evaluation


Since we’re trying to be practical here, let’s update the list to the 2001 revised edition of Bloom’s Taxonomy because Synthesis is so 1956.


  1. Remember
    2. Understand
    3. Apply
    4. Analyze
    5. Evaluate
    6. Create


Bloom’s Taxonomy provides us with a good reference point to learning how to write learning objectives. It categorizes different cognitive behaviors and their relevant action verbs. These action verbs help us write meaningful learning objectives.


For example, our introductory product management course does require some basic knowledge. Perhaps we build a chapter in an online course that includes videos and reading material and end it with a quiz. We can write a level 1 learning objective, “You will be able to describe the software development cycle.” Later on, in a live class, we may want to push a higher level of proficiency and set a learning objective such as, “You will be able to demonstrate how to build a Gantt chart.”


5. Compose Your Learning Objective – Then Rewrite Them

You have to start somewhere. Create an outline of your e-learning learning objectives and evaluate them. Your learners complete the course and have accomplished each unit’s learning objectives. Do they have the skills necessary to say they achieved the learning goal? Don’t be afraid to modify your learning objectives. Nothing is written in stone anymore. Over time, you will see what works and what doesn’t. Take the time to analyze performance and make revisions. Perhaps some objectives were too ambiguous, and the criteria for success weren’t clear. Maybe the objective is too complex to understand, or maybe its benefit isn’t clear. Revisit and revise. Through practice, you’ll absolutely master how to write learning objectives of online learning.


As you explore different methods for delivering online learning, such as: online courses, virtual instructor-led training (VILT), engaging webinars – to help your learners accomplish their e-learning learning objectives, I invite you to Kaltura Virtual Meeting for Free! Your free account isn’t just limited to 2 weeks. It’s yours to use as you like without commitment and without a time limit. You can experiment with a ton of features and hone your skills in course building and class delivery. You even get access to Kaltura’s Video Resources, the place to go for insightful tips and tricks that will help you master the Kaltura Virtual Meeting platform and give you great ideas on how to deliver units of instruction and evaluate learner success.


Now that we have covered how to write learning objectives for eLearning in 2020, the ball is on your side of the court.  You have the necessary knowledge; now try it out for yourself. In today’s world, the tools to create viable learning at scale online are available to all, you just have to find the right fit for you.  With Kaltura’s video platform, you can pursue your ideas in the most memorable and effective ways, allowing you to be as creative and engaging as possible while maintaining your vision, and most importantly, seeing results.

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