Sticky objectives


I’ve taught several train-the-trainer sessions recently and the topic of objectives has figured prominently.  As most of us know, good instructional objectives are essential for effective training evaluation at all levels.  A couple of points about instructional objectives before I continue:

  • A good instructional objective should include 3 things:  1) the performance (what the trainee should be able to do after the training, 2) the condition (when, ex. “when conducting a performance evaluation”), and 3) the criteria (how well).  If the objective does not contain all three of these elements, it can’t effectively indicate the desired result of the training.
  • Most instructional objectives are preceded by the this phrase:  “at the conclusion of the training, the participant will be able to:”
  • It may not be useful to share the instructional objectives with the trainees.  It may be more helpful to develop instructional objectives for use in the design process with trainers, program sponsors, and other “insiders”, and to write and publish objectives of a more general nature, such as “learn how to conduct an effective performance review” for use with trainees in the learning events.  In my experience, many trainees are intimidated or just don’t relate well with instructional objectives (some trainers too, but that’s a different issue).

Now that I’ve commented on instructional objectives, I’d like you to consider this:  what is the purpose or point of the training and of the training objectives?  Is it to demonstrate knowledge or a skill or possibly even an attitude change at the end of the training?  In most cases, the answer to this question is “no”.  The purpose of most training is for trainees to apply certain knowledge, skills or attitudes to their jobsso that their performance is more effective in specific, targeted ways.

So if the purpose of the training is for trainees to use certain skills in their job performance, shouldn’t the objectives be written to describe what they should be able to do, on the job, after the training?  If we look at instructional objectives from this perspective, the performance, conditions, and criteria may not change.  What will change, though, is the statement that precedes the objectives:  “at the conclusion of the training, the participants will be able to….”    Instead of “at the conclusion of the training”, substitute “in their job performance, the participants will….”   Remember, our focus should be on what they will do, not what they can or will be able to do.

Making these simple adjustments in the wording of instructional objectives – and in the more general objectives shared with trainees – can keep trainer and trainee focused on the true goal of the training – on-the-job performance.

Until next time….


P.S. Follow me on Twitter: @StickyTraining

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Barbara Carnes, Ph.D.
Carnes and Associates, Inc.
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2 Responses to “Sticky objectives”

  1. Paula Drieci Says:

    Very good info Barbara! The point about instructional objectives being important for designers/trainers/etc is especially good – they are great for making sure WE stay on track/follow up with what we want to accomplish, but can be confusing for the learner.

  2. Dr. Mike Says:

    I respectfully disagree with “writing objectives to reflect job performance” as a matter of routine. You can only reflect what you can actually control; training organizations are usually not able to take employees up to the skilled performance levels that are implied by this tactic. This would means one is taking on more responsibility than one can deliver, unless the training includes supervision of learning during performance on the job.

    Knowledge transfer alone will not automatically translate to skill; only practice reliably builds skill. It is simply too expensive to replicate or simulate the job environment and give students the opportunity to practice, so, it rarely happens. Training organizations that speak “skills” to persuade funding managers, but only delivery “knowledge” are destined to get gutted when they fail, or just cut as expensive overhead during downturns.

    It will also take managers off the hook for planning job assignments, coaching, feedback & supervision that MUST take place to reach skill levels. It is a rare occurrence for trainers or instructional designers to be able to build a path that includes managing learning in the workplace.

    Hand these performance objectives off to managers and help them plan their workforce development process and infrastructure accordingly.

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