Even the most gifted dart player cannot hit the bull’s eye until they know where the target is.
In simple terms, learning objectives are the red circle in the centre of the training dartboard. They are the things you want employees to be able to do after they complete your training. Every element of the training experience should be aimed at that circle and only at that circle!
No matter how much time, effort, and money you invest in training, you will not achieve measurable results until you have established clear learning objectives and aligned your training with those targets.
The first thing to remember is that learning objectives focus on the learner, not the training process. As an instructional designer, I start every new project by asking the client to identify their learning objectives.
Responses often start with statements like “We want everyone to learn about…” or “We want to teach people about…”. These statements provide my team with important information about what an organization wants to accomplish but they are not learning objectives because they reflect on program content rather than the desired actions of individual learners.
Learning objectives address the knowledge, skills and attitudes of the learner. To be effective, a learning objective must meet five key criteria that are easily remembered using the acronym S.M.A.R.T:
SPECIFIC. MEASURABLE. ACHIEVABLE. RELEVANT. TIMELY.
A good learning objective is specific, using clear, simple terms that everyone understands. This means NO jargon and NO words that only a subject-matter expert can appreciate. When developing learning objectives, it is a good idea to have someone outside of the management team read them and then re-iterate what they think each objective means. If they are having a hard time explaining it, the objective needs more work.
Each learning objective must be measurable. There should be a tangible way to verify that the learner has met the learning objective. There may be a test at the end of the training experience, and/or or an opportunity for the learner to demonstrate their use of a newfound skill. Without measurement there is no way to show that training has been effective.
Learning objectives must be realistic and achievable. Learners should find the training challenging, but not to the point of frustration. And it should seem relevant to participants. It is imperative for adult learners to see the connection between taking the training and improving their job performance or the workplace environment. Without confidence that the training is purposeful, adults will become annoyed at what they perceive as a “waste” of their time and will tune out.
Lastly, learning objectives must be timely, meaning that before taking the training, participants clearly understand when they must be able to meet the learning objective. Typically, this is after training.
Once you have S.M.A.R.T. learning objectives, you are ready to begin developing content that covers those objectives – and nothing but. This is an important point because it is easy to digress.
Check your content against the learning objectives and have others do so as well. The more “on target” your training is, the more successful it will be and the more satisfied participants will be in the training experience.
When the content is complete and perfectly aligned with the learning objectives, you can add things like exercises to re-enforce key concepts, quizzes, supplemental materials, and testing. As with the content itself, these elements need to align with the learning objectives – and nothing but. While it is important to make the learning experience as engaging as possible, never add anything to the training just to entertain or amuse.
After training, observations of participants and opportunities for feedback should focus on the performance of the learning objectives. Remember that a single training experience, no matter how well put together, is unlikely to create a profound, long-term impact on individual behaviors or on the workplace environment.
Employees need ongoing training to learn new things and to reinforce their existing knowledge of company policies, practices, and procedures, including safe work practices and acceptable workplace behaviors. They should also have access to professional development opportunities. When you invest in your employees, it shows that the company is committed to them and values their contributions.
Successful business leaders recognize that training is a long-term investment in the most important resource of the organization – its people.
Article written by Kim Scaravelli, CEO, Trust Communications Inc.
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