Why learning objectives matter when designing learning events

February 5, 2015 by Tina Žagar

Alice asks the Cheshire Cat, “What road do I take?”
Cat, “Well, where are you going?”
Alice, “I don’t know”
Cat, “Then it doesn’t matter. If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”

Learning Objectives Word Cloud

Learning Objectives Word Cloud

This famous quote by Lewis Carroll from his book “Alice in Wonderland” applies to many life situations. It is also true whenever you find yourself designing and developing any kind of a learning event. Apart from skilled trainers with adequate content knowledge and participants who have the necessary baseline knowledge and motivation to learn, a successful training program requires clear outcome statements. These statements are learning objectives which provide guidance for selecting and organizing appropriate course content, managing the specific needs and expectations of your audience, and evaluating the curriculum’s effectiveness along with gains in learners’ knowledge.

Here at the CEF, the design and development of every knowledge exchange initiative begins with articulating clear learning objectives. These first of all help our participants understand the knowledge and skills they will gain as a result of attending a particular event as well as what is expected from them. It is important to keep in mind that adults commit to learning something when the learning objectives are realistic and important for them; that is, perceived as being immediately useful and relevant to their personal and professional needs. With this in mind, we conduct pre-event surveys and invite participants to give specific input on what they need and want to learn. We ensure that participants have a voice in shaping their own learning experience by using their comments and ideas to update the curriculum. We believe that the involvement of participants in the design stage of our activities contributes to a meaningful learning experience for them.

Setting objectives also helps us choose the right learning methods and tools. When we want to raise participants’ understanding of a particular subject matter that they are not fully familiar with, we invite an expert guest speaker and then seek participants’ insights into how the presented content relates to their experiences and practices. But when the overall objective of the learning event is to inspire action through exploration of individual and collective experiences, we invite them to participate in a brainstorming session, problem solving, role play exercises or a discussion forum. The goal is to allow participants to find a personal meaning for their learning and identify opportunities for applying their new knowledge.

Learning objectives also serve to connect content and assessment around learning as they allow us to evaluate the performance of lecturers, participants, and our own staff. We formulate these objectives so that their contribution to the knowledge, skills and attitudes of the participants could be observed and measured. Measuring progress toward the attainment of the objectives is useful for making adjustments in the ongoing activity or for designing a new activity.


Note: The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the CEF.