Learning Objectives Can Mean More for the Designers Than for the Learners

Have you ever opened a course, online or a textbook, and skipped right over the statement of learning objectives? I have. Even if I read them, they don’t really make sense to me. Not yet.

I need a little orientation first.

Back in 1985, Robert Gagné said that there are nine steps to effective instruction. Providing learning objectives is Step 2, not Step 1. The first step is getting the learner’s attention. This involves laying out the problem that will be solved by the learning experience that is about to unfold and making clear why the learner should care. (Check out Don Clark’s Big Dog website for the entire nine steps.)

Only then do you provide the roadmap. It’s: Here’s the need that brought you to this course (step 1) followed by: Here’s how we’re going to satisfy that need (step 2). Then, before we get into the instruction proper, we let the learner reflect on what he already knows and how the instruction will fit in (step 3).

Learning objectives are certainly important for the learner, but they are not the first thing.

For the learner.

For those of us who design courses, however, learning objective serve a different function. They are out plan for course development. They help us determine how to apply most of the remaining steps in Gagné nine-steps of instruction. For each learning objective, there are materials to present to the learner, activities to design to get the learner to rehearse new knowledge and skills, coaching and feedback, assessment, and so on. While learning strategies may vary depending on the type of learning objective, an entire sequence needs to be implemented for each one.

Our project plans are built around learning objectives.

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