Instructional objectives have some practical use and come from a process known as “needs analysis”.

ListeningInstructional objectives have some practical use and come from a process known as “needs analysis”. That is the last of 12 truisms that have influenced how I have been doing my work as a learning and performance consultant over a number of years. I hope you will feel free to support it with a book reference, a personal experience or a case study, or knock it down using similar sources of evidence.

I have devoted a good deal of energy to persuading people that instructional objectives have some practical use. I strongly believe that they are not a tick-in-the box requirement, an unnecessary chore or a lucky charm. I regard them as the most fundamental part of specifying learning from which all other considerations must issue. The process of analysis is not one thing but many, each of which can influence instruction and testing, and so frame and shape a learning experience.

I see measurable or observable objectives as the bridge between what a learner takes from the content of a course and what has to be tested. Without them there is bound to be a large amount of irrelevant course material and learners will lack the sense of priority that will enable them to focus their efforts.

I don’t include detailed lists of objectives in what the learner sees, but I always make them explicit because I feel sure that when learners know the general purpose of a task and the standard they need to attain in completing it, their confidence improves and anxiety decreases.

It may be useful to include formal objectives to help to explain very complex learning materials, but not for simple, assignments that are easy to understand and follow.

It is certainly easier to write precise objectives for concrete, observable tasks than for abstract or academic content or for activity that aims to manipulate attitudes and emotions, but nowhere can I find the suggestion that objectives are more useful in one domain than another.

A widely-recognised behavioural model for framing objectives is Mager and Pipe’s performance – conditions – standard, although many do not associate it with that source.  I find it works well to simplify it a little in plain English using the template “You’re going to do this… so you’ll need this… and here is how we’ll know you’ve done it.”

So let me conclude this journey around the truisms I’ve encountered over the past several years by setting a final set of 9 straw man statements for you to craft into a permanent figure or blow into dust.

  1. Course objectives come from analysis
  2. Analysis takes many forms – goal analysis, performance-gap analysis, stakeholder analysis, audience analysis, feasibility analysis, organisational analysis (readiness to adopt and support), content analysis, job analysis, task analysis
  3. In combination these forms of analysis provide objectives that form the basis for designing, developing and implementing instruction and assessment, and for quantifying and valuing the results they deliver. The effectiveness, fitness and efficiency of a learning strategy, materials or course rely upon this.
  4. The quality of a learning program is in direct proportion to the adequacy of its objectives. It is barely possible to develop a relevant course and adequately test its users without a proper analysis of needs.
  5. It is quite common to find courses and learning materials where the content does not match the stated objectives.
  6. Some trainers and designers misuse objectives by displaying them as a kind of decoration, makeweight or rubber-stamping of course design.
  7. Course with unclear objectives usually contain irrelevant information or omit vital information.
  8. Without clear objectives you cannot create valid and reliable assessments.
  9. Every objective in a programme of learning should be assessed in some way.

Thank you for staying with me during this journey through my 12 truisms. When you are ready for the next dozen, please let me know.