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.

Creativity’s Muse Can Be a Project Manager

My wife and I met in a play writing class. We had different styles—at least at a macro level. I wrote outlines, she didn’t. Her work was organic, mine was planned. At a micro level, there was probably more similarity. Although I had my outlines, I improv’d scenes in my head, and sometimes (as they say) the characters in my plays took on a life of their own, thwarting my neat outlines. And although my wife built her plays up from individual scenes, she did have some sort of organizing principle—you just didn’t see it in a formal structure. . . .

Okay, wait a minute, What does this have to do with financial education?

Educational projects can involve many different people with many different perspectives. This presents a challenge in managing the project to a successful conclusion. Subject-matter experts know what they know, but they may not be able to articulate it. Instructional designers know learning theory, but they may not understand the subject-matter. They may take time to come up to speed. Executive have one sort of expectation for a project and production people have different ones.

Bringing a team of such diverse people together is a challenge. The effort can stifle creativity. My wife couldn’t understand how my outlines could help me write a work of drama or humor. But they did help. In my mind, they ensured that my creative vision was realized throughout the whole work.

In the same way, effective project management, which recognizes the particular value of each member of the team and their particular viewpoint, can orchestrate a superior product. It can create synergies by ensuring that the whole team remains focused on learner outcomes. By not working at cross purposes, a team can achieve its goal without waste and without rework.