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How to Write Learning Objectives for a Training Presentation

Carolyn is a learner-centric instructional designer who is proficient at generating new content and improving upon existing materials.

In this article, you will learn how to identify and develop adequate learning objectives that describe to your learners what they will be able to do as a result of your training. You will also be given some illustrative examples.

What Are Learning Objectives and Why Are They Important?

Learning objectives are the foundation of effective training. Adult learners expect their training to be directly applicable to their situation. When you develop learning objectives around their business-related needs, you are taking the first step in ensuring that your training matches their expectations.

Learning objectives focus both the trainer and the learner on the achievement of specific results:

  • They direct the instructor toward developing and conducting training that provides the learners with the skills and knowledge they need.
  • They provide the learners with a clear understanding of what they will be expected to do as a result of the training.

Levels of Objectives

Learning objectives are developed at two levels—at the course level and at the lesson level. Course objectives are developed first and state the broad behavior expected of learners at the end of the course. Lesson objectives are subsequently developed; they state specific behaviors required to achieve the course objectives.

  • Example Course Objective: “At the end of this course, you will be able to develop a safety training plan geared to the learning needs of adults.”
  • Example Lesson Objective: “At the end of this lesson, you will be able to select appropriate training methods useful in delivering safety training.”

Notice that the narrower lesson objective—to select training methods—is one key element involved in developing a training plan. The steps you will learn in developing lesson objectives apply to developing course objectives as well.

How to Develop Learning Objectives in 2 Steps

There are two steps you must follow in developing adequate learning objectives. They are:

  1. Clarify the tasks to be performed after training.
  2. Develop appropriately stated objectives based on those tasks.

Clarify After-Training Tasks

To clarify after-training tasks, start with the information you developed when you analyzed the training requirement. Pay particular attention to the new or changed behavior expected of the learners as well as the expected benefits your learners will receive. Then list the major tasks the learners will be doing as a result of your training.

Develop Appropriately Stated Objectives

Once you have clarified the after-training tasks, write objectives that describe the task behavior you want the learners to demonstrate during training.

  • Example After-Training Task: “Conduct an accident investigation.”
  • Example Learning Objective: “By the end of this training program, learners will be able to list and describe from memory, in their proper sequence, each of the steps used to conduct an accident investigation.”

The 3 Parts of a Learning Objective

There are three parts of a learning objective:

  1. Action: The action identifies what the learners must do to demonstrate what they have learned. In an objective, the action should be described using an action verb that is specific and observable.
  2. Condition: The condition identifies what the learners will be given or not given to perform the action. At testing time, the given might include things like equipment, tables, a case study, a job aid, a role play, or a set of data.
  3. Standard of performance: The standard of performance identifies how well the learners must do to demonstrate what they have learned. If a standard is not stated, then 100% accuracy is assumed.
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For the example above:

  1. Action: "List the steps to conduct an accident investigation . . .
  2. Condition: from memory . . .
  3. Standard of Performance: in their proper sequence."

Note: Sometimes both the conditions and standards are assumed (not stated).

Additional Examples

By the end of this training program, learners will be able to:

  • "Select the proper tools required to repair a heating unit when given a fully equipped toolbox and a heating unit in need of repair."
  • "Name all the major parts of an SCBA unit, when given a diagram."
  • "Locate a given topic in the IIPP on the first attempt."

It is important that the learning objectives for your training come as close as possible to the actual behavior the learner will be expected to perform back on the job. When you are describing desired behavior, use words that describe observable behavior. This will come easily when you are writing learning objectives for physical skills such as operating a respirator or applying CPR Techniques. When the behavior relates to the learners’ knowledge or attitudes, however, you might be tempted to use words like “know,” “understand,” or “appreciate.” These words describe something that is happening inside the learners' minds. In these cases, you must write learning objectives that use words that describe the observable behavior that the learners will demonstrate during training.

Appropriate and Inappropriate Verbs to Use

It is important to remember that the verbs you use in writing learning objectives must indicate observable behaviors. Because of that, you should not use words like "value" or even "remember." This is because it's not possible to look inside of a learner's mind and observe whether or not this is taking place. Instead, you should use verbs like "explain" or "describe" in your learning objectives. These are actions that the learner can take, and that an instructor can readily observe.

Below are some additional verbs that you may use when writing learning objectives.

  • Write
  • Classify
  • List
  • Calculate
  • Select
  • Prepare
  • Apply
  • Operate
  • Choose
  • Define
  • Construct
  • Complete
  • Demonstrate

Note: The above lists are only samples for you to consider in writing objectives. Whatever word you choose, remember that the critical issue is to clearly communicate the behavior that must be shown by the learner so that both the learner and the instructor know that learning has taken place.

The Importance of the Learner's Point of View

Finally, learning objectives should be expressed from the learner’s point of view. You are defining what you want the learner to be able to do as a result of the training, not what you as the instructor want to accomplish. Starting all your objectives with the phrase, “At the end of the training the learners will be able to . . .” will help keep this focus in mind.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Carolyn Fields


Carolyn Fields (author) from South Dakota, USA on September 12, 2019:

Thanks, MizBejabbers!

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on September 12, 2019:

Looks like a very good plan to me. I could have used this when I was senior editor. (I am retired now.) Thankfully, I had a couple of retired English teachers who came up with a great remedial program for new proofreaders under us.

Carolyn Fields (author) from South Dakota, USA on September 11, 2019:

Thank you, Dora, for reading and commenting!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on September 11, 2019:

Thank you for these clearly-outlined guidelines. I find them helpful in the preparation of seminar presentations. "The learners will be able to..." Will remember that.

Carolyn Fields (author) from South Dakota, USA on September 11, 2019:

Thanks, Meg. I appreciate the support.

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on September 11, 2019:

This reminds me of the training I went through many years ago. The principles were good then, they are still the gold standard now. Following these principles will help produce USEFUL training. While I am retired now, I still run occasional training courses and still follow these precepts.

Carolyn Fields (author) from South Dakota, USA on September 10, 2019:

Thanks, RT!

RTalloni on September 10, 2019:

This is a useful guide on writing learning objectives that gives a trainer a good foundation to build on.

Carolyn Fields (author) from South Dakota, USA on September 10, 2019:

Thanks, Pamela!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 10, 2019:

If I was still working and training people I would use these objectives as I think they are excellent. In training you must have a good plan, and you have given us all the necessary steps in explaining the best way to use learning objective. I think this is an excellent article.

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