Best practices

Setting Meaningful and Measurable Learning Objectives: The importance of goals

The idea behind producing meaningful and measurable learning objectives is simple: They facilitate the creation of corporate training content that’s in line with those objectives and they provide clarity for learners, in terms of expectations around the training.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the theory behind setting well-defined eLearning objectives and explain how corporate trainers can produce measurable learning objectives with the help of some examples of meaningful and measurable learning outcomes.

The andragogy of corporate learning objectives

There are well documented andragogical guidelines for setting measurable learning objectives. The most useful references for this purpose are the original Bloom’s Taxonomy of 1956 and the revised version of 2001; both of these can be leveraged to produce clear, measurable, and meaningful statements that define the learning objectives.

These theories, which are equally applicable for setting eLearning objectives, are based on a set of cognitive learning levels that training aspires to produce in a learner. These include:

  •     Knowledge = Remembering previously taught materials
  •     Comprehension = Grasping, interpreting and translating taught material
  •     Application = Using learned concepts in concrete new situations
  •     Analysis = Breaking down material learned into component parts to facilitate understanding of inter-relationships
  •     Synthesis = Putting parts of analyzed material back together again to create new concepts or constructs
  •     Evaluation = Using specific criteria to make judgments about material being taught

Central to the concepts mentioned above are what Bloom and his colleagues called “Action verbs”. These verbs are used to describe a particular cognitive level when writing corporate learning goals. Some examples of such verbs include:

  •     Knowledge-related: Recognize, Identify, Match, List, Define
  •     Comprehension-related: Associate, Define, Explain, Summarize, Describe
  •     Application-related: Apply, Distinguish, Operate, Utilize, Perform
  •     Analysis-related: Analyze, Classify, Determine, Inspect, Recognize
  •     Synthesis-related: Arrange, Build, Create, Design, Produce, Rewrite, Specify
  •     Evaluation-related: Appraise, Choose, Conclude, Describe, Judge, Rate, Score, Evaluate

When paired together with certain other elements, which we shall delve into in greater detail shortly, these Action verbs help trainers to produce succinct learning outcome statements that spell out the learning that trainees should have demonstrably acquired upon completing the prescribed course of study.

While on the face of it this theory for setting measurable learning outcomes may look complicated, it really isn’t! That’s because the andragogy is based on logic, and understanding that logic is key to our ability to produce well-defined learning objectives.

The logic of learning objectives

In its simplest form, the logic of producing learning objectives that are meaningful and measurable can be explained as follows:

  •     Since the learner is at the heart of it all, the objectives being set must be learner-focused, and not trainer focused
  •     Since learners are taking the course to be able to do something after they complete it, the objectives should obviously highlight what skills they acquired
  •    Since the objectives of employee training involve teaching the employee to do something, the training objectives being set out must clearly define what will be done

The subtle difference between “able to do” and “what will be done” will become clear shortly. Viewed in this context, the act of setting and writing measurable learning objectives becomes more clear.

How to write measurable learning objectives

Setting goals and objectives for corporate learners, which are both meaningful and measurable, requires that those objectives include three important elements:

  •     They must define clear and meaningful actions on the learner’s part
  •     Those actions must elicit observable behavior
  •     The objectives may include quantifiable criteria against which learners’ performance might be assessed

Given the above, the act of writing measurable learning objectives may well begin with statements such as:

“Learners should be able to…”; followed by verbs that describe specific actions associated with the desired outcome related to the actions; and concluding with an objective statement that defines the learning that learners are expected to demonstrate as a result of what’s being taught.

Learning objectives may also include optional modifiers, which lay down specific criteria or standards of performance, and aligned to the corporate learning goals that are sought to be accomplished from the training.

If we were to take all of the above essential ingredients for producing eLearning objectives and create a generic construct to help trainers set meaningful course objectives, it would look like the following:

“At the end of this segment of the course, learners should be able to…” &

“Verb outlining performance or desired action {i.e. able to do}…” &

“Object of the core theory or concept being taught {i.e. what should be done}…” & optional

“Modifier highlighting performance criteria related to those core concepts”

So, using the above template as our guideline, let’s build sample measurable learning objectives for a hypothetical corporate learning program.

Learning goals examples

To best understand how to set and write measurable training objectives, let’s take a look at a couple of examples. For the purpose of this illustration, we’ll assume that the course is being sponsored by a small-to-mid-sized company and that the broad objectives of the training program are to train employees on significant updates to the corporate HR policies.

One of the components of the course relates to corporate hiring policies, in which employees will be exposed to major changes on how new hires into the company’s workforce will be screened.

Examples of corporate objectives sought to be achieved through this module may be articulated as follows:

At the end of this module employees should be able to:

1)   identify the 7 major changes to Resume Screening protocols being introduced in the new hiring policy

2)   identify the new Minimum Qualifications requirements by successfully identifying which 3 of 10 test resumes meet the designated criteria

3)   calculate base salaries accurately for all 6 new pay grades being introduced under the new Pay Standards guidelines

Let’s refer back to the template that we created in the section “How to write measurable learning objectives” earlier on in this article. If we deconstruct each of the above statements using the rules explained earlier, we can easily see why they meet all of the criteria of meaningful and measurable learning objectives:

  •     They all include specific Action verbs related to various cognitive levels of learning espoused by Bloom’s Taxonomy:

    Identify (Knowledge)

    Demonstrate (Comprehension)

    Calculate (Application)

  •     Each of these corporate learning goals identifies a specific object of the core concept that the learner will be exposed to, such as:

    Resume Screening protocols

    Minimum Qualifications Requirements

    Pay Standards Guidelines

  •     And finally, while not mandatory in their use, our three sample learning goals examples included specific performance criteria against which “success” can be measured:

    7 major changes

    3 of 10 test resumes

    6 new pay grades

Use this graphic as a great resource when looking for additional Action Verbs for each of Bloom’s cognitive levels of learning.

Putting it all together

Before we summarize this article, it is important to point out that not all of Bloom’s cognitive levels, and not every Action verb must be used in every situation. Each objective will focus on different cognitive levels of learning, and therefore require a unique sub-set of Action verbs.

When we synthesize all the individual pieces of our example, we can see that the objectives of employee training, using the three sample statements above, are:

  •     Concise and succinct – because they are restricted to single, short sentences instead of lengthy dissertations
  •     Meaningful, because they help learners know what to expect as a result of taking the course
  •     Measurable – because the learner knows what they have to do to be considered successful at the end of the course

When setting meaningful corporate learning objectives, instructional designers must strive to write them in a way that learners can relate to. That way, while learners will know exactly what to expect from the course, trainers and eLearning designers can produce meaningful and measurable content that supports those training objectives.

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