Monday, June 17, 2013

The Learner Will

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend an Continuing Education class on Training Design taught by Emory.  My biggest take away from this class was, surprisingly, writing objectives.  The objective tells the learner what he or she can expect to get out of the class but it also provides a good roadmap for the content creator.  Before taking the Training Design class, I had no idea how much writing an objective could truly help me understand exactly the points I wanted to cover.

Every objective attempts to use descriptive words to communicate what the learner will have achieved by the end of the training module. In many cases, those words are not as descriptive as they should be.  Take, for instance, this sample learning objective for an introductory class to iMovie:

Participants in this class will learn the ins and outs of the popular Apple software, iMovie.  Join this session to get a better understanding of how the editing process works and, by the end of 1 hour, you will have made a movie of your very own.

At first glance, the objective may not seem so bad.  It informs the learner that the class is about iMovie, that a movie will be made, and that the class will be taught in one hour.  But how is the learner supposed to know if this class is appropriate for their level?  And how will the course be taught? The objective makes no mention about what specifics of iMovie will be covered and, although the objective hints at a hands-on learning method, it is not clearly stated exactly how the participant will learn the material.  

So, how can we make the objective better? Let's dissect:

The example above uses vague verbs such as "understand," "learn," and "master" to indicate what the participant will do or achieve in the class.  The problem with using such words is that they are no-brainers.  Of course the participant is going to learn  - that's the whole point of training.  There are much better verbs to describe what will actually take place during the course of training. Verbs such as "build," "create," and "explore" say so much more, so let's try replacing these verbs:

Participants in this class will explore the ins and outs of the popular Apple software, iMovie.  Join this 1-hour session to build upon your knowledge of iMacs by creating your very own movie.

Using different verbs paints the training in a different way.  Don't you think the word "explore" sounds much more fun than "learn?"  The verbs also help establish who this class is for (those that already have a working knowledge of iMacs) and what they will be doing (creating a movie.)  There are so many great verbs to use that you should never have to default to these seven deadly verbs: Understand, Learn, Know, Appreciate, Enjoy, Help, and Master.

The orginal example did at least one thing right, it gave the participant a time frame.  Whether the training is 1 hour, all day, or over the course of several days, a good objective will inform the learner how long it is going to take before they have gathered all the information pertaining to the topic.

A poorly written objective may result in participants who are either too advanced or not advanced enough to be in the class. Our original objective failed to describe how the participants will gain their knowledge.  When it comes to training, methods can vary widely. From panel discussions to group exercises, learners deserve to know what exactly they will be doing.  In applying a method to our objective, you should aim for stating, not only the method, but supporting details as well.

In this hands-on class, participants will explore the ins and outs of the popular Apple software, iMovie.  Join this 1-hour session to build upon your knowledge of iMacs as we discover how to manipulate audio and video, add transitions and music, and use advanced features such as green screen editing.

This objective has come a long way! Now, the participant knows exactly what to expect upon stepping foot into this class.

Writing a good objective forces a trainer to seriously reflect on the content he/she wants to cover.  In conjunction with the ADDIE model, it is a very powerful tool to keep your trainings on track and increasing retention rates.

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