Who Needs Learning Objectives?
1) YOU – The Instructional Designer: You need learning objectives because you need a frame of reference to keep you on track as you go through the design and development process! The learning objectives you write serve multiple purposes for you. They:
- Become the benchmark learner performance will be measured against
- Serve as the outline that will drive your content
- Are the criteria that will establish the appropriate types of learner activities and assessments
- Indicate the best delivery medium based on learning verbs, such as e-learning, classroom (virtual or brick and mortar), or other types of delivery.
2) The Stakeholders: Stakeholders need learning objectives because they need to buy in to what you are creating. They must understand what the learning solution will look like, and learning objectives provide the beginning of that roadmap.
3) The Design Document: OK, so a Design Document is not a “who,” but you can’t have a course design without learning objectives! And yes, every learning solution needs a design that will serve as a blueprint and roadmap for development. If you’ve ever tried working without one, you know I’m right!
4) The Learners: Learners need to know what they will be learning! They don’t like working blind, and they especially want to know when they will be finished with whatever they’re learning! They also want to know what’s expected of them if they will be tested. Learning objectives provide this information.
There are a few exceptions to providing learning objectives to learners. On occasion, Instructional Designers are asked to create marketing pieces or customer-facing content that is purely informational for the leaner. In this case, learners do not need to see the learning objectives, although you should have had them for all the reasons stated above!
Also, sometimes learners are working in a “surprise” environment, where they aren’t supposed to know where the learning is taking them. This is often done in Socratic learning.
Another scenario where we don’t need to provide learners with learning objectives is when we write procedure guides or technical instructions such as assembly manuals.
Keep in mind that your learning objectives might be stated differently for your learners and even your stakeholders than they are stated within your Instructional Design team. When we write learning objectives, we might use the three-part objective structure:
“Given a horse and a saddle, learners will be able to demonstrate saddling the horse so that the saddle will not slide off the horse when the horse is ridden.” (OK, no, I wouldn’t really use that as an objective in any environment, but hopefully you get the idea!)
Meanwhile, your stakeholders and learners might see this learning objective:
“After completing this lesson, you will be able to saddle a horse.”
You need to make learning objectives engaging for your learners, and understandable for each target audience.
If you’d like to know more about writing learning objectives, consider taking my course, How to Write Learning Objectives!”