aLearning Blog

Online Learning for Trade Associations

Educational Objectives — the Spine

Posted by Ellen on October 12, 2008

Okay, I just have to get this off my chest. It seems I’ve run aground a general undersatnding of what educational objectives should or shouldn’t do or be with a colleague. It wouldn’t be a big deal except we needed to come to a consensus about the objectives for a particular educational module.

Without clear educational objectives, learners won’t know what to expect and instructors, trainers, and facilitators won’t know what to do.


Well-written educational objectives should define the path that the instructors need to walk down in order for the learners to get what they need from the session, course, module, or curriculum. They should define what the learning outcomes should be.

“If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else.” (attributed to Yogi Berra)

Make sure everyone else knows where you’re going. Write objectives that clearly articulate what learners will know or be able to do when they complete the session. If you won’t be able to measure whether learning occurred, your objective isn’t clear enough.

Poorly written objectives are all over the place: “Learners will understand…. know….”

How can you measure what they will understand or know? Well, you ask them to identify or describe or explain something, right?

So that should be your objective: “Learners will be able to explain… identify… describe… distinguish…”

Here’s the best bit of instruction I ever got about effective objectives: write the test, then write the objectives. Even if you won’t have a test, pretend you will, and figure out what you would ask, or what you would have the learner do to demonstrate what they have learned.

Those are your objectives.

Could you have a lot of objectives for a session? Absolutely. Particularly if you’re covering a lot of material. Is that a bad thing? Maybe. But you won’t know until you define all of the objectives, design the session, offer it, and then test the learners to find out.

What happens if you don’t? If you’re always going to be the one in front of the room, you can make sure you cover everything. If you’re designing a course for someone else to teach, or for online delivery (especially for asynchronous delivery), you must have well-written objectives, or you risk instruction that loosly interprets the learning points, misses them entirely, or substitutes content along the critical path.

To have value, your educational offerings must provide a level of quality and relevance not offered anywhere else. Your educational objectives are the spine of each of your programs. Treat them with care, or suffer the aches and pains you’ll suffer as a result.

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