Why Learning Objectives are the Lifeblood of Engaging and Focused Training

Did you ever wish one of your work assignments would just write itself?  If one of your work assignments is to develop a training session, I may just be able to help you get that assignment to write itself.

Let’s say that you wanted to come up with a training session on customer service and communication skills.  And let’s examine two different ways to organize people’s thoughts around developing a training session.

Organize Your thoughts using PowerPoint

  • First Step: Open up PowerPoint
  • Second Step: Stare at the screen and wonder: “what should I teach people about customer service and communication skills?”
  • Third Step: Spend considerable amounts of time typing up slides with lots of text and information about what you think people need to know when it comes to customer service and communication skills

Method #1 is very conventional.  It follows a logical sequence and flow.  It often takes significant amounts of time to put together, and this development process can be painstaking as you try to decide just what you should present and how you should present it.

Unless the intended audience is dying to learn more about customer service and communication skills, they will probably grow bored at some point during this session. 

As a facilitator, you might expect that your audience will take copious notes and work on memorizing the information you have bestowed upon them, but the truth is that you have very little in the way of being able to assess whether or not they get it.  Which is a bummer because you put a lot of time and effort into it.

Method #2: Spend 20 minutes outlining specific learning objectives

  • First Step: Open up a blank Word document, or PowerPoint or best of all open up a lesson plan template
  • Second Step: Finish this sentence: “By the end of this session, my learners will be able to…” (hint: the next word should be an action-oriented, observable verb such as “demonstrate” or “explain” or “compare” or “assess”; it should never be a verb that you, as the facilitator, cannot see or observe such as “know” or “understand”)
  • Third Step: Repeat step #2 two or three or four more times (depending on how much time you have and whether you want to go broad or deep when it comes to your topic)
  • Fourth Step: Figure out how your learners will show you – during the lesson – what you wrote in steps #2 and #3 (for example, if your learners will be able to demonstrate an appropriate email response to a customer complaint, then you ought to have an activity in your lesson during which your learners will be asked to actually write out an email      and then receive feedback on whether or not it meets the threshold of “an appropriate email response”); once you have well-crafted learning objectives, developing your lesson becomes as easy as doing a paint-by-number project!

Why Learning Objectives?

Method #2 is a strategy is a strategy often used by school teachers and not used enough by presenters in the business world (nor is it used enough by college professors!).  Spend 20 minutes on crafting learner-centric, action-oriented, observable learning objectives, and your lesson plan basically writes itself!

What are your thoughts on why learning objectives make a difference in training sessions and meetings?

2 thoughts on “Why Learning Objectives are the Lifeblood of Engaging and Focused Training

  1. By saying, “end of this session, my learners will be able to…” you are really setting outcomes, not objectives. Objectives say what participants will do in the training and is measurable. You will need to assess learning to measure an outcome. And sometimes that is not possible depending on your topic.

    • Yep. And. It all depends on how you define “objectives” or “outcomes”. To engage in a conversation like this, two (or more) people need to agree on a definition first. At the end of the day, I’m not as concerned about debates over which definition is correct, we’d just need to agree on a definition so we’re talking about the same thing. The other thing that I’m most concerned about is learner experience and whether they’re able to do something new/differently/better as a result of that learner experience. Objectives? Outcomes? Whichever term leads to impact, I’ll take it!

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