When designing eLearning courses, there's a lot to consider from the user interface, overall user experience, organization, pacing, to its accessibility.
But one of the first things to focus on should be creating clear learning goals so that the user gets value out of your course.
So what is the right way to go about creating these goals?
Start with the Learning Objectives
First, you have to identify what the learning objectives will be. For example, if you're teaching a course about designing websites using WordPress, you may have several learning objectives:
- Learning how to use the WordPress interface.
- Using a website design and development theme.
- Installing and using plug-ins.
- Creating various types of content for WordPress.
- Adding eCommerce tools such as shopping carts, payment processors, and more.
When creating effective learning objectives, you want to think about Bloom's Taxonomy. Bloom's Taxonomy encompasses six levels of learning. This includes remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.
The reason why you want to abide by Bloom's Taxonomy is that it deepens the level of learning and ensures that the user walks away with actual skills.
You want to create a learning experience where the user isn't just reading about a topic but actually immersed in the topic by using critical thinking, applying learned skills, and putting the user's entire knowledge to the test. Remember, the ultimate goal is to have the user get value out of your course and walk away with new skillsets.
What's the Difference Between Learning Goals and Objectives?
Earlier on, it was mentioned that your eLearning course should have learning goals. There needs to be a distinction between learning objectives and goals. The course goal is the broad skill(s) that is the ultimate desired outcome. Using the previous example, the goal would be to design a WordPress website.
The learning objectives break down the primary course goal so that there are smaller specific goals to follow. You want to cover the fundamental points or create a step-by-step process that helps the user reach the ultimate goal. You need to use learning objectives as a part of your overall course design to guide the user through the entire learning experience.
Using learning objectives also allows the user to revisit your course later and get a refresher on the different subject areas. And the fact that your course is broken down into different objectives will help users improve their information literacy and hone the skills they've learned.
How to Write Learning Objectives
Now that you know the importance of creating learning objectives, you have to communicate the objectives in an effective manner. An effective formula you can follow is the ABCD of learning objectives. This stands for:
- A (audience) – Who are you creating the course for? Are you creating a course for higher education and focusing on students’ learning? Maybe you are creating a course for new employees in a specific industry.
- B (behavior) – What is the specific action that you want the user to take? Do you want them to calculate, differentiate, or fix? You want to use clear learning objectives verbs so that there isn't any confusion.
- C (condition) – What conditions will have to be met? (e.g., “Add a header design and a subscription form by the end of this chapter”).
- D (degree) – To what extent will the behavior need to be performed? Will there be a time limit, a level of quality that needs to be met, etc.?
Let's get an example of what a learning objective may be. Let's say you are creating a course for students that want to learn how to code.
- Students will need to write a program that prints “Hello and Goodbye” on the screen.
- They will have 30 minutes to write the program.
- The text must be case sensitive.
In the above example, all the ABCD's are addressed. There is no confusion as to what the student will have to do. You want to distill complex instructions down as much as possible and avoid making the instructions convoluted.
In addition to helping your students, these learning objectives can also help you develop an effective course outline that you follow when you develop your course.
The Importance of Language in Learning Objectives
To communicate as effectively as possible, you want to be as brief and to the point as possible with your instructions. The way to do this is to use verbs in your learning objectives. Going back to Bloom's Taxonomy, here are some verbs you can use across the six levels of learning.
- Knowledge – State, Define, Select, Describe, Recognize, Reproduce
- Comprehension – Explain, Describe, Summarize, Identify, Review, Compare
- Application – Demonstrate, Apply, Use, Construct, Perform, Complete
- Analysis – Differentiate, Analyze, Categorize, Diagnose, Measure, Quantify
- Evaluation – Review, Assess, Compare, Evaluate, Interpret, Justify
- Creation – Develop, Build, Create, Formulate, Compose, Construct
Notice how these verbs for learning objectives are all active verbs. This makes the instructions direct and brief. The instructions allow the user to focus on the objective rather than figure out what's being asked.
Here are some good examples of how these verbs would be used:
- Compare the marketing campaign of 2019 and 2020 for “Company X.” What KPIs enabled the 2019 campaign to outperform the 2020 campaign?
- Create a program that prints a multiplication table for numbers up to 10.
- Construct a rectangle using four of the shapes that are provided.
What Are SMART Learning Objectives?
Another way to approach course design is to use SMART learning objectives. SMART is an acronym for Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Relevant. Time-Focused. This is a way to design objectives so that there is a clear focus as to what needs to be achieved.
It is so effective that it is used in the field of medicine to teach students. It's also a great way to approach projects that require problem-solving, especially in a group setting.
Let's break down the structure of the SMART method in regard to creating learning objectives.
- Specific: You need to use language that is clear and direct as to what the user will learn or need to do.
- Measurable: The objective will need to be measurable so that the user can see that the information or skill was learned.
- Attainable: You must design the course in a way so that there's a chance for the user to reach the objective. This means you have to consider the user's existing skills and knowledge.
- Relevant: The information will need to be relevant to the ultimate goal. It should be communicated why the information or skill being taught is important.
- Time-Focused: By when does the objective have to be met? This can be something as simple as stating that the objective will need to be met by the end of the section.
Let's go back to the previous example of the WordPress web design course. As a course creator, a SMART learning objective can be something like:
“Online web forms are important because it allows you to collect the email address of your website visitors and follow-up with them. By the end of this section, you will learn how to create online web forms and engage the visitor with your form in three different ways.”
As a course creator, you need to have a primary course goal and learning objectives to ensure that the user walks away from your course with value. No matter how valuable your information is, you will fail to deliver this value without following effective instructional design principles. The goals and objectives are just one part of this.
To review, you want to use Bloom's Taxonomy to ensure that your user is learning on multiple levels. You want to create learning objectives following either the ABCD or SMART method. Finally, you need to communicate your learning objectives by using active verbs and clear language.
With this information, you have all the foundations in place to create an outstanding course. Whether you're in the process of developing a course or have finished developing a course, use this information to make the necessary changes, and steer your course design in the right direction.