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Trainer Blog

5 Steps to Writing Clear and Measurable Learning Objectives

Jun 5, 2018 4:25:46 PM
writing learning objectives

Learning objectives aren’t just a list of what you’re covering in class. Good learning objectives are what you want your students/trainees to learn or achieve (“by the end of this course, you will be able to...”). If you don’t know the end goal—and you don’t have certain measurable checkpoints—you can get lost along the way. Here are some tips to help you get started:

1. Identify the Level of Knowledge Necessary to Achieve Your Objective

Before you begin writing objectives, stop and think about what type of change you want your training to make. In other words, what do you want your participants to do differently when they return to work? The domains of learning can be categorized as affective (attitude), psychomotor (skills), and cognitive (knowledge). An easy way to remember this is with the acronym ASK

  • Attitude — Changes how a learner chooses to act. Compliance training is a good example of when you will have to teach to this domain. It’s usually the hardest to craft objectives for this, since it’s dealing with feelings, emotions, and attitudes.
  • Skills —This domain focuses on changing or improving the tasks a learner can perform.
  • Knowledge — This domain focuses on increasing what participants know. Learning safety rules, troubleshooting, and quoting prices from memory are all examples of this level of learning.

2. Select an Action Verb

Now that you’ve identified what domain you intend to focus on for your objective, it’s time to start crafting your objective. To do that, it’ll help to have an action verb to describe the behavior at the appropriate level of learning. Here’s a list of action verbs, separated by domain. Avoid having more than one action verb for each level of learning, and make sure it’s a verb that can be measured. “Understand” is too vague, but “complete,” “identify,” or “recognize” are specific.

  • ATTITUDE
    Advocate • Accept • Agree • Allow • Analyze • Approve • Assess • Believe • Choose • Collaborate • Comply • Conform • Convince • Cooperate • Decide To • Defend • Endorse • Evaluate • Pick • Recommend • Select • Support • Tolerate • Volunteer 
  • KNOWLEDGE 
    Compare • Define • Describe • Designate • Discover • Distinguish • Explain • Identify • Itemize • Label • List • Name • Recite • Recognize • Recount • Relate • Retell • Specify • Spell Out • State • Tell • Term • Write 
  • SKILLS 
    Actuate • Adjust • Administer • Align • Alter • Assemble • Build • Calibrate • Change • Copy • Demonstrate • Design • Develop • Draft • Execute • Form • Handle • Manipulate • Measure • Mend • Perform • Prepare • Process • Record • Regulate • Remove • Repair • Replace • Set • Service 

3. Create Your Very Own Objective

Now it's your turn to give it a whirl. 

4. Check Your Objective

Make sure your objectives include four pieces: audience, behavior, condition, and degree of mastery. For every one, identify and label the component. Here are the A, B, C, D's every objective should contain: 

  • Audience: It’s important that your objective identifies the people that will be doing the learning. Typically this will involve the word, “learner” or “participant.”
  • Behavior: You’ll need to identify what the participants are going to do differently. This component will contain your action verb.
  • Condition: This part of the objective will describe the situation of the participants.
  • Degree of Mastery: This part of the objective is closely tied to the change in behavior, as it stipulates the degree of the change.

Try labeling each of the four components in your objectives to make sure you didn't forget anything. In the following examples, the audience will be italicized, the behavior will be underlined, the condition will be in regular type, and the degree of mastery will be bolded.

Example 1

Given an expense report, the learner will complete the company form with no errors.

Example 2

After completing the three-day design training, the learner will be able to list the 8 steps in the design process in order.

5Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

Go through this process for each objective. Don’t stop until you feel that you have enough objectives to effectively measure your performance. Remember, objectives work as checkpoints that lead to a completion of a goal. It’s important you have enough of them to keep yourself from getting lost. Start with what you want to achieve and work backwards.  

If you'd like to up your game creating objectives or designing a class, check out one of our courses, particularly the workshop on Instructional Design.

Published originally by Jordan Meyers, adapted from Becky Pluth’s session on writing objectives at the 2014 Creative Training Techniques conference.

Topics: Creative Training Techniques 101: The Basics