How to Write Learning Objectives for eLearning in 2020

How to Write Learning Objectives for eLearning in 2020

If you’re like me, then in your day-to-day you might say goal one moment and objective the next. The only difference being 5 characters and a couple of syllables. Before we dive into how to write learning objectives we’ll have to clarify a couple of key terms. We’re running the risk of diving a little too deeply into semantics, but it’s worthwhile to note the differences between e-learning learning goals and e-learning learning objectives.

Goals are broad. They layout a long-term vision. A learning goal is like the course summary you send out to folks to get them excited about the course. It’s lofty and generally not specific and often not measurable. “Upon completing this product management course, you will have the skills necessary to deliver your product.”

That’s great. I want to become a better product manager, but how do I get there through this course? What are the specific steps to get me there and how will I know I’m better on the other side?

These aren’t rhetorical questions. Answering them is key to not only convincing management that the course is valuable and illustrating ROI afterwards, but it is also key to convincing learners to buy in. That’s where e-learning learning objectives come into play.

Learning objectives are specific, focused and measurable. They define a single outcome and use strong measurable terms and action verbs to define a clear target. This is where we meet Bloom’s Taxonomy. “You will be able to create a product roadmap.”

Creating a product roadmap is only one step in delivering a product, but it’s an important step. After completing a virtual instructor-led class or a chapter in an online course on creating product roadmaps, I will be able to create my own product roadmap. Step by step, learning objective by learning objective, I will be able to accomplish my learning goal.

So, with that in mind, let’s see how to write learning objectives of online learning.

1. Identify Your Audience

When building your online course whether it’s synchronous or asynchronous or a blend of both, you need to think about who you are trying to reach. Are you in a learning & development department looking to improve leadership skills among your top managers? Or, are you tasked with on-boarding new employees destined to be tomorrow’s leaders? Are you teaching young students or adult learners? Understanding who your learners are will help you define your learning goals and help you write effective objectives for online learning.

Different groups learn in different manners.  Once you identify your audience, you can tailor it so it will be received most quickly and effectively. For the sake of making this practical, let’s say that we are building a course for those interested in becoming product managers. Maybe they have a technical background. Maybe they have a marketing background. Either way we’re looking to build a course that appeals to would be product managers.

2. Define Learning Goals

You don’t get into the car without knowing where you are going unless you’re just out for a drive, but let’s stick with this metaphor without thinking too much about it. Set your destination. Define the vision or overall learning goal for your online course.

We already defined one earlier, “Upon completing this product management course, you will have the skills necessary to deliver your product.” This course is an introductory course to product management. We already identified our audience – would be product managers – and now we have a defined learning goal for our learners to aspire to. Now what? How do they get there? Now that we have our goal we can start to think about the concrete steps we can take to accomplish it.

This goal is the pin on the map on the other side of the country. We can’t just jump from point A to point Z. Our learning path is built of milestones and clear objectives that provide learners the confidence to continue onward to accomplish their goal. Everyone benefits from getting small successes under their belt. These small successes helps indicate to the learner, the instructor, and management that progress is being made. New skills are being acquired. With that, we are able to confidently move forward.

learning objectives woman

3. Determine Your Measurements of Succes

Great! We’ve defined our learning goal and have started thinking about the steps necessary for learners to take to get there. Our learning goal may not be measurable, but our learning objectives must be.

For our product management course, our learning goal is for learners to gain the skills necessary to deliver a product. Our learners must have the knowledge and ability to apply that knowledge in order to be successful. If the learning goal requires a diverse set of skills, then we should experiment with the format of the class. Specific units with defined objectives can be delivered in a variety of methods with different criteria for success.

Consider the need for learners to memorize key concepts. You can use microlearning like a video or reading material in an on-demand format. You can create a quiz to evaluate learner understanding when they complete the video or finish reading. A simple quiz is a great way to measure learner understanding of concepts they need to simply know – facts, figures, core concepts.

A cognitive psychologist by the name of Henry L. Roediger III of Washington University studies how the brain stores and receives memories.  And even though there was a backlash against too much testing, that it destroys the morale of the student, Roediger III supports the previously held view on the positive nature of tests, and explains, “Taking a test on material can have a greater positive effect on future retention of that material than spending an equivalent amount of time restudying the material.”

Maybe we want to take their understanding to the next level. Assign them a task to describe the concepts in an open answer or open paper. Or, you can even have them discuss the material in a synchronous session with their peers where they discuss and elaborate upon the material. These are effective ways to measure and evaluate learner understanding.

4. Employ Dr. Benjamin Bloom’s Taxonomy

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a classification system or framework used by educators to create assessment, learning paths, and even learning objectives of online learning. It orders cognitive behaviors into 6 hierarchical levels of complexity.

          1. Knowledge
          2. Comprehension
          3. Application
          4. Analysis
          5. Synthesis
          6. Evaluation

Since we’re trying to be practical here, let’s update the list to the 2001 revised edition of Bloom’s Taxonomy because Synthesis is so 1956.

          1. Remember
          2. Understand
          4. Analyze

Bloom’s Taxonomy provides us learning how to write learning objectives with a good reference point. It categorizes different cognitive behaviors and their relevant action verbs. These action verbs helps us write effective learning objectives.

For example, our introductory product management course does require some basic knowledge. Perhaps we build a chapter in an online course that includes videos and reading material and end it with a quiz. We can write a level 1 learning objective, “You will be able to describe the software development cycle.” Later on in a live class, we may want to push a higher level of proficiency and set a learning objective such as, “You will be able to demonstrate how to build a Gantt chart.”

learning objectives woman learning

5. Compose Your Learning Objective - Then Rewrite Them

You have to start somewhere. Create an outline of your e-learning learning objectives and evaluate them. Your learners complete the course and have accomplished each unit’s learning objectives. Do they have the skills necessary to say they accomplished the learning goal? Don’t be afraid to modify your learning objectives. Nothing is written in stone anymore. Overtime, you will see what works and what doesn’t. Iterate on them. Perhaps some objectives were too ambiguous and their criteria of success wasn’t clear. Maybe an objective is too complex to understand or maybe it’s benefit isn’t clear. Revisit and revise. Through practice you’ll absolutely master how to write learning objectives of online learning.

As you explore different methods for delivering your online learning – online courses, virtual instructor-led training (VILT), engaging webinars – to help your learners accomplish their e-learning learning objectives, I invite you to try Newrow Smart for FREE. Your free account isn’t just limited to 2 weeks. It’s yours to use as you like without commitment and without a time limit. You can experiment with a ton of features and hone your skills in course building and class delivery. You even get access to the Newrow Smart Training Course that will not only help you master the Newrow Smart virtual classroom platform, but also give you great ideas in how to deliver units of instruction and evaluate learner success.

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Newrow Smart is the next generation Virtual Classroom platform used by enterprises, schools and facilitators worldwide to engage their employees, students, and audiences. Deliver training anywhere, at a fraction of the cost, that both engages and delights your participants, while improving business results.

Sam Thompson

Sam Thompson is VP of Product for Newrow, a company dedicated to helping corporations and educational institutions distribute their knowledge easily, elegantly and personally through virtual classrooms, webinars, and online courses. With more than 10 years of experience in B2B and educational technology start-ups, Sam is responsible for defining and executing Newrow’s product vision, business development and sales enablement, and product marketing.