Posts Tagged ‘objetives’

Purposeful Objectives

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

For effective learning to take place, what is the most important part of the process? The accurate specification, the quality of the performance improver (aka trainer, coach), the attitude of the learner, the quality of the evaluation, or something else?

I’m not sure it’s possible to make a robust argument for one particular aspect being more important or influential than any other – they are all integral to bringing about effective performance improvement.

Having said that, I do think there is one part of the process that links all the parts together. And it is an area that is often not given the priority or importance it warrants. It is the ‘learning objectives’ or ‘learning outcomes’.

When I used to train trainers, and then assess the lessons they delivered, it was the single most problematic area. Where the trainers weren’t clear on their objectives, or their methodology didn’t meet the objective (usually because they had committed the cardinal sin of choosing a methodology before arriving at their objective) they often came unstuck. Where they had a well structured objective together with a matching methodology, they had clarity of purpose – and the sessions generally went so much more smoothly for all concerned.

Well-formed objectives assure the client that the specification of their needs is clearly understood, they inform the trainer what is to be covered and to what level, they let the delegates know what they are there for and they let the evaluator know what they need to measure.

An well written learning objective needs to achieve two key criteria. Firstly, it needs to say what is to be achieved by the delegates, and secondly it needs to say to what level.

This is where we need to thank Benjamin Bloom for his Cognitive Domain Taxonomy of Learning. He developed his theory in the 1950s, together with work on the Psychomotor and Affective Domains. A Taxonomy is an “ordered list” and the Cognitive Domain describes the various stages and levels a person passes through as they develop greater knowledge and learning around a specific area.

The left hand column of the table below describes the six levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy relating to the Cognitive Domain.

LevelPossible measurable
words
KnowledgeLabel; Identify; Recite; List; Name
ComprehensionExplain; Summarise; Illustrate; Give examples; Distinguish between
ApplicationOrganise; Apply; Produce; Show
AnalysisDifferentiate; Compare; Prioritise; Categorise; Classify
SynthesisCompose; Construct; Hypothesise; Design; Combine
EvaluationEvaluate; Make a judgement; Recommend

The right hand column gives some of the words that can be used in writing objectives to ensure that they are both measureable and pitched at the appropriate level. Let me give an example.

An organisation wants its staff to learn about its Performance Management processes. Some staff who are perhaps not included in the process may need only to have ‘Knowledge’ of it. Those who are appraised probably require the “Comprehension” level, and managers will need to have the “Application” level in order to carry out performance reviews. Other staff in HR may require
the higher levels within Bloom’s Taxonomy.

These first three levels should generate three different learning objectives which could be, for example, that by the end of the session the delegates are able to:

  1. Identify the organisation’s Performance Management processes (Knowledge)
  2. Summarise the organisation’s Performance Management processes (Comprehension)
  3. Apply the organisation’s Performance Management processes (Application)

These different objectives dictate the levels to be achieved, and therefore the methodologies to be used and consequently the duration of any learning intervention. To achieve the first objective could take 10 minutes, to achieve the third could take 2 days – a significant time and cost differential for a one word difference in the objective.

Moving finally to our evaluator. He or she can then ask delegates, either verbally or in writing, to “Summarise the organisation’s Performance Management processes” – and the answer will tell us whether the intervention has achieved its stated objective. When reported back, the client has clarity as to whether their requirement has been met, as does the trainer.

Paul