Writing Effective Learning Objectives

During train the trainer sessions, I always tell my participants that if you can craft your learning objectives well, then the rest of the training program will pretty much write itself.

If you have 7 minutes or so, give today’s podcast a listen (or scroll down below and read the transcript) to learn a bit more about what I mean by this.

Introduction

Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to another episode of Train Like You Listen, which is a podcast about all things learning and development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn, your host. I’m also the Co-founder of Endurance Learning and author of a book called: What’s Your Formula? Combine Learning Elements for Impactful Training.

Today’s podcast includes a short introduction to learning objectives. What are they? Why do you want to use them? How do you write them? And before I get into that, I just need to mention that today’s podcast is brought to you by Soapbox, which is an online tool that you can use for 5 to 10 minutes, and you can take care of about 50 or 60% of the work when it comes to developing live, instructor-led training. Basically, you tell your computer how long your presentation is, how many people will attend, whether it’s in-person or virtual, what your learning objectives are – it actually writes these for you. And then, Soapbox instantly generates a training plan for you with clusters of training activities that are designed to help you accomplish your learning outcomes. For more information, go ahead and visit www.soapboxify.com

What Are Learning Objectives?

All right, let’s get into it. What are learning objectives? Sometimes this is one of the most controversial and nerdy debates you might see on Twitter or LinkedIn, if you get really into some of what’s going on in the L&D space. But what I want to do here is begin with a definition because this is going to be important that we’re all on the same page here. So it may not be your definition, but here’s the definition that I’m going to use for today’s podcast. Whether you agree or disagree, it doesn’t matter – it’s how the term will be used in this podcast. 

So learning objectives are statements that declare what you want your learners to do, new or differently or better, as a result of your learning experience. So notice I made this statement learner-centered.

A Learning Objective is Not a Statement About You

A learning objective is not a statement about you, or what you want to do or talk about during a training session. It is not, “I want to show people how to navigate this new computer system.” A learning objective is not, “I’d like to teach our four-step sales process to our staff.” Those are presenter-centric, those aren’t learner-centric. And those also might be goals for your training program, but they’re not learning objectives, at least not in the sense that we’re talking about here today. 

A learning objective is a statement that’s learner-centered. So for example, “By end of this training, my learners will be able to do ‘fill in the blank’.” And it’s also action-oriented and observable, and the verbs you choose to plug into your learning objectives will be important. 

Well-written vs. Poorly-written Learning Objectives

So let’s talk about that for a second. Why are well-crafted learning objectives even important? Basically, if you have the right learning objectives– this is what I love about learning objectives – your learning experience kind of writes itself. 

Think about this learning objective – and I’m about to give you a learning objective, but as I recite it, I want you to be thinking about the kinds of activities you might need to do to have your learners demonstrate that they can achieve this objective. 

Example of a Well-Written Learning Objective 

So think about activities when I read this sentence: “By the end of this training module, the learners will be able to recommend the right product to our customer.” So what kinds of activities might you design for this objective, to have learners recommend the right product to our customers? Well, first you may need to make sure that our learners know about the various products we have to offer. Next, you may want to make sure that our learners know how to ask questions and identify the needs of our customers. And finally, you may want to do some sort of role play to see if the learners indeed are able to recommend the right product to our customers in the first place. This is what I mean by a well-crafted learning objective – kind of writes the rest of the learning experience for you. 

Example of a Poorly-Written Learning Objective

All right. Let’s take a quick look at a poorly-crafted learning objective. And this is what I see typically a lot of times when I’ll do a Train-the-Trainer Program: “So by the end of this training module, the learners will be able to understand our products.” Well, what kind of activity are you going to use to achieve this objective? “They’ll be able to understand our products.” How can we see if our learners understand these products? What does “understand our products” even mean? 

Verb Choice Makes All the Difference When Writing Effective Learning Objectives

If we changed just one word, the verb, the entire training goes from ambiguous to specific. Instead of “understand,” let’s change it to “describe” – “The learners will be able to describe our five main products.” 

Now think of this and what kind of activities can we do? Sure, we can lecture about the products, we can give our learners some marketing materials about each of these products, we can simply give each of our products to our learners. And then, because we said our learners needed to be able to describe our five main products, we can have them pair up and describe a product to a partner. We can pull a learner in front of the class and have them describe it to everybody. Or maybe we can even have our learners create their own marketing materials for these products. 

Verb Choice is Key When Writing Effective Learning Objectives

By simply changing one word, “understand” to “describe” in that learning objective, we’ve unleashed all sorts of possibilities, and we can actually see, we can observe whether we were successful. So in sum, a learning objective is just a statement, but it’s a powerful statement. You’re declaring what you want your learners to do new or differently or better.

Two Principle Properties of a Well-Written Learning Objective

So a well-crafted learning objective has two principle properties: It’s learner-centered, not presenter-centered, and it’s action-oriented or observable. And you want to hone your objective writing craft because when you write these well, the rest of your learning program basically writes itself.

More Resources For Information About Writing Effective Learning Objectives

Element 39 Learning Objectives Taxonomy from Endurance Learning's Periodic Table of Amazing Learning Experiences

If you want more information about learning objectives, you can go to our website, which is www.51elementsoflearning.com, and click on element 39, which is Learning Objective Taxonomy. That actually gets into a little bit of a bigger picture – learning objectives and verbs you might want to use and things like that. You can also learn more about how well-crafted learning objectives can be combined with other learning design elements to make amazing learning experiences in my book What’s Your Formula? which is available at Amazon. And that’s it for today.

So thanks for listening. If you know someone who might find today’s topic on learning objectives to be important, go ahead and pass the link to this podcast along. If you want to make sure that you are notified of a new podcast when it’s hot off the press, go ahead and subscribe – whether it’s Apple or Spotify, wherever you listen to podcasts. Even better would be if you were able to give a like or give a review of the podcast, or put it on LinkedIn or whatever you want to do. It’ll just take you a minute, but it would mean a lot to me. And until next time, happy training everyone.

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2 thoughts on “Writing Effective Learning Objectives

    • Yes! I was just waking up this morning, thinking about my post, and realizing I didn’t include any of Will Thalheimer’s videos/posts about learning objectives in the show notes. Thank you for adding this. And hi Kirby!!

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