If you’re like me, then 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 diving 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 not only convincing management that the course is valuable and illustrating ROI afterward, but it is also key to convincing 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 define a clear target. This is where we meet Bloom’s Taxonomy. “You will be able to create 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 for online learning.
1. Identify Your Audience
When building your online course whether it’s 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? Are you teaching young students or adult learners? Understanding who your learners are will help you define your learning goals and help you write effective objectives for online learning.
Different groups learn in different manners. Once you identify your audience, you can tailor it so it will 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. Maybe 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 thinking too much about it. Set your destination. Define the vision or overall learning goal for your online course.
We already defined one earlier, “Upon completing this product management course, you will have the skills necessary to deliver your product.” This course is an introductory course to 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 goal. 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 are able to confidently move forward.
3. Determine Your Measurements of Success
Great! We’ve defined our learning goal and have started thinking about the steps necessary for learners to take to get there. Our learning goal may not be measurable, but our learning objectives must be.
For our product management course, our learning goal is for learners to gain the skills necessary to deliver a product. Our learners must have the knowledge and ability to apply that knowledge in order to be successful. If the learning goal requires a diverse set of skills, then we should experiment with the format of the class. 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 learner understanding when they complete the video or finish reading. A simple quiz is a great way to measure learner 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 the material can have a greater positive effect on future retention of that material than spending an equivalent amount of time restudying the material.”
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. Or, you can even have them discuss the material in a synchronous session with their peers where they discuss and elaborate upon the material. 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 an assessment, learning paths, and even learning objectives of online learning. It orders cognitive behaviors into 6 hierarchical levels of complexity.
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.
Bloom’s Taxonomy provides us learning how to write learning objectives with a good reference point. It categorizes different cognitive behaviors and their relevant action verbs. These action verbs help us write effective 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 accomplished 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. Iterate on them. Perhaps some objectives were too ambiguous and their criteria of success weren’t clear. Maybe an 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.
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