Dr. Peter C. Honebein is a DSA Associate and principal of Honebein Associates, Inc. He is the author Creating Do-It-Yourself Customers (Thomson Texere) and Strategies for Effective Customer Education (McGraw-Hill). He also holds academic appointments as adjunct professor at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Business, and the Indiana University School of Education. Article © 2005 Honebein Associates, Inc
Learning objectives, performance objectives, behavioral objectives-we call them by many names. Whatever you or your organization calls them, we are all talking about the formation of clear statements of what we intend the learner to be able to do as a result of instruction.
The trick is to not only make the statement clear, but also to make sure our objectives are worthwhile - that is, they describe the actual competencies needed by the learner to perform at the level needed. Below are some tips that should help both in developing objectives and in writing worthwhile objectives.
1. Realize that the learning objectives for an instructional program are different than job objectives. For example, a job objective for a sales organization might be to increase sales by 5% in the next corporate year. The learning objectives would have to do with acquiring knowledge and skills that would increase the likelihood of increasing sales by 5%. Determining this knowledge and skills should come from a careful needs analysis to determine either what is lacking or what can be learned to increase the probability that the sales people will be able to increase sales by 5%. In one case, for example, sales people did not know how to take customers through the discovery process. Therefore, the learning objectives had to do with acquiring the skills of asking questions of the customers to discover their needs related to the services provided by the supplier.
2. Learning objectives cannot be adequately formulated considering only the content to be learned. They must also be created with the context and learners in mind. For example, if you are told that you only have two hours for a training program, you cannot expect to make high level problem solvers out of the learners due to the time limitation. You would have to ask yourself what can we teach people to do in two hours that would help move them towards being better problem solvers.
3. When writing objectives, it is often hard to know where to begin and how to write objectives at the right level. Here's are two suggestions:
While keeping the business need and content analysis close at hand, ask yourself at what level do you want the students to be performing when they return to or go to their new job? Do you want them merely to comprehend certain concepts or do you want them to actually be able to apply the concepts and skills you have to teach them? This thought process can be assisted by looking at the different levels of the cognitive, psychomotor or sometimes affective learning domains. Chose a high enough level and write your objective to match that level of knowledge and performance. Many standard textbooks in instructional development have action verbs listed that are associated with each of the different levels of performance.
Another way to help yourself get started writing worthwhile objectives is to look at what the learner is expected to do on the job and think about how to write an objective that calls for simulating their work. In other words, write the objectives of the training in ways that mimic the job they perform. For example, if the job involves order processing then the objectives of the program should include providing the learner product request and having the learner process orders. If learners are to produce sales presentations on the job, then the objectives should include planning, designing, and producing sales presentations given a real a world scenario.
4. Objectives should be validated against the content analysis and business need once written, since they will serve as the basis for presentation strategy, providing appropriate practice, and assessment of what has been learned. Because objectives are the basis for targeting the outcomes of the training program, considerable time and effort should be spent in this area. In fact, moving a training development project through the necessary stages of needs analysis, content analysis and formulating the learning objectives may take as much as 40% of the project time.
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Authentic Activities to Enhance Transfer of Skills, Part 1
DSA would like to thank Dr. Peter Honebein for contributing this month's tip on Authentic Activities. Dr. Honebein is an active associate, working on DSA e-learning projects and he regularly teaches the DSA workshop: The Course Developer Workshop
If you are designing courses for your learners that involve high-level problem solving skills, an instructional strategy you should consider is authentic activities. Authentic activities engage learners in situations that reflect real-world cognitive challenges. The advantages of this strategy include richer experiences for learners, easier transfer of skills to real-world tasks, and strong performance outcomes.
So, how do you construct authentic activities for your training courses? The following list offers some key principles for you to follow.
Authentic activities are problem-focused
It is more frequent than not that content is taught for the sake of the content itself. In a course for front-line employees, my subject matter expert (SME) was adamant about teaching employees about the company’s target market. I asked why. “Because they need to understand who are customers are,” replied the SME. The novice designer typically accepts this answer. Instruction that stops with this level of analysis typically ends up as four PowerPoint slides defining the target audience, with a multiple choice test at the end.
It usually takes two or three more rounds of “why” questions to finally yield what a designer needs to develop problem-focused instruction. “Employees need to know who the target customers are because employees need to qualify those customers,” relinquished the SME. Bingo! Now we had a problem – qualifying customers. And it was authentic, since employees performed the task on a regular basis.
Authentic activities involve the learner playing different roles
While authentic activities typically engage the learner in the role they will play on-the-job, it doesn’t have to be so. Many courses I develop these days have wide, varied audiences as companies try to stretch their training dollars to be as inclusive as possible. In such situations, designing activities that let the learner play different roles associated with the task at hand appears to be an acceptable solution. It gives learners a better idea of the interconnected relationships that get work done.
In the next Tips issue, we’ll be exploring the following “authentic activities” topics-stay tuned!
See you next time,