When Are Learning Objectives Absolutely Useless?

When I teach my workshops on creating fair, valid and reliable assessments, I instruct my students to write their test questions to the content’s learning objectives. In this way they can ensure that the full domain of content is covered, resulting in content validity.

And back in the day when I used to create courseware I always told the instructional designers and writers that prior to writing any actual content they were to create learning objectives for every lesson. We would then provide these to the client, who would review them and suggest changes. We might go through a few rounds of revisions and when we were done we had a detailed course outline. This was partially an instructional strategy and partially a business strategy: Here is the mutually agreed upon scope (in some detail) of what the course will cover.

So where do I find learning objectives absolutely useless? I find them absolutely useless at the beginning of lessons. You’ve seen them (and maybe even created them): “After completing this lesson the learner will be able to:” – followed by a long list of objectives. Seriously, do you read those learning objectives? Do you remember them five minutes later? I don’t and I don‘t think many learners do.  They are a waste of space and the learner’s time if he/she even bothers to read them.

So, you could just get rid of them as far as I am concerned.

But I do have an alternative idea. Instead of learning objectives begin the lesson with a relevant story or anecdote, or pose a problem or challenge:  something that introduces the lesson in a compelling manner; something that motivates the learner to want to dig deeper into the content; something that provides context and frames the lesson to follow.

Or even better yet: Begin the lesson with a quiz! Research shows that a lesson pre-test, even without feedback, improves learning.

Your learners may not thank you, but they should.

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