Identifying and articulating the eLearning objectives of any course or module is one of the most important early steps of the instructional design process. But it’s not the first step, and certainly not the last. The learning objectives are critical because they become the roadmap for developing the learning content. Developing an eLearning program without well-defined learning objectives would be like setting out on a journey without any navigation tools to get you to your intended destination. Here’s how to rock your eLearning objectives:
Laying the Groundwork for eLearning Objectives
If you are a learning professional at a company that understands how to do learning and training right, then you won’t be starting with learning objectives, you’ll be starting out with a discussion of the company’s business goals. You’ll examine those goals relative to actual business performance, and there will likely be a gap between where the company is and where it wants to be. From there you’ll root out the reason for the underperformance. If the root cause appears to be something related to the performance capabilities of some employees, then you’ll figure out what knowledge and skills need to be enhanced to reach the business goal. Then and only then is it time to start formulating eLearning objectives.
If eLearning objectives aren’t directly tied to business goals in a meaningful way, you’re essentially wasting valuable time and precious resources. The all-too-common disconnect between learning objectives and business goals is a big part of why company executives might view the learning department as a cost center that drains company resources instead of viewing it as a vital investment into building organizational capacity to reach and surpass business goals.
By way of example, let’s say one of your company’s business goals is to hit a particular sales target, but the company is currently well below that target. Digging down into the performance of the sales team, you discover that they’re all over the place in terms of how they deal with prospects. There’s no consistency, so some salespeople are doing well while others are not. The differences between the high performers and the low performers are clear in terms of best practices. Now you have what you need to rock your eLearning objectives.
Think in Terms of Measurable eLearning Objectives
When your company does the smart thing by tying learning objectives to business goals and employee performance, the single-most important thing you need to do as a learning professional is immediately and always think in terms of measurable Learning objectives. After all, if you can’t measure it then you can’t draw a clear line between your learning programs and the improvements needed in performance to reach those business goals. And if you want your company’s top brass to value your learning and training programs, you need to be able to do this in order to show a return on investment (ROI) for your efforts. If you can’t measure it, then you can’t manage it or know if you’ve improved it.
The other advantage of starting with clear, measurable learning objectives is that it will be much easier to design the learning assessments you need. Evaluating the learning that took place during the course or module will go much more smoothly because you already know what it is you’re measuring, even before starting to create the learning content.
Let’s return to the example of developing a learning program for the sales team of the company that needs to hit a particular sales target. One of the trends you discovered as you observed salespeople in action is that the high performers were good at identifying the prospective customer’s needs and then explaining how the product or service meets those needs. What you would not want to do is write eLearning objectives like this: Understand the prospective customer’s needs. It sounds good, but the verb “understand” is not a measurable verb. Identify the customer’s needs would be better, but it’s still not very robust. If you’ve ever heard of the SMART framework for how to write goals, then you probably know the acronym stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. Learning professionals would do well to incorporate more elements of the SMART approach into learning objectives. Instead of identify the customer’s needs, how about improve identification of customer needs. That’s better because it more specifically includes what you’re aiming for – improvement.
But you can do even better. When you studied the sales team’s performance, you figured out that your highest performers were identifying customer needs at an accuracy rate of 90%. Everyone else was below that, often by quite a bit. You decide that everyone should be able to hit that 90% accuracy rate as a minimum threshold. Now you could write your learning objective as improve the identification of customer needs to a minimum accuracy level of 90%. That is the level of specificity and measurability you should be going for if you want to rock your eLearning objectives.
This was just a brief introduction into some the reasons and methods behind writing great eLearning objectives. Getting this right is one of the keys to your ongoing success as a learning professional. And if your company is looking for the right learning management system (LMS) for all the great learning content you create, we invite you to take a closer look at eLeaP through a free 30-day trial to see what it can do for your learning and training efforts.