Objectives of learning

Charles Jennings notes in Who needs learning objectives? (free subscription required) that they’re mostly useful for instructional designers and not of much value on the job or for those taking the training.

If you are going to assess the impact of a course on individual participants’ performance in the workplace you need to forget about learning objectives for doing the job. Remember, learning objectives may be useful to help you create a logical design, but that’s all they’re useful for. When you get to measuring transfer of learning to the workplace you need to engage with the people who are in a position to observe behaviour and performance and those who are in a position to measure outputs. This usually means the manager and the team member who is responsible for maintaining performance metrics for the business or team – the balanced scorecard metrics or similar.

Connecting the training department (or training developers and instructional designers) to the work to be done is the real issue here. It may be easier to go off in isolation and develop some training when given learning objectives developed by a couple of subject matter experts, but good training can’t be developed in isolation. All human work is contextual, and models like valence theory show how we are all influenced by several factors:


Getting involved in the way work is done and understanding issues is what’s necessary to be of service as a learning/training professional.

I still remember the case of a nurse clinician in charge of the performance and training for all nursing staff in a hospital. I asked to do an on-site performance analysis over several days and of course had to be accompanied. After two years on the job, it was her first time on the wards. Getting out of the office is a low-tech method that can reap major performance benefits. From a distant office view, only a few of the valences in the figure above would be noticeable.

Learning objectives are a way of reducing human performance into manageable Taylorist bits, stripped of their humanity. We have more tools to communicate and connect with people than ever before, so there are fewer excuses to reman distant from the work that needs to be done. As I’ve recommended before, the training department needs to get into the business of connecting & communicating:

invert pyramid

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