Setting learning objectives is widely considered to be the most important step in the instructional design process. Learning objectives provide the crucial link between the initial training analysis step and the design, delivery and evaluation of learning. Performance-based objectives allow the trainer to frame the needs discovered in the analysis phase in a way that is quantifiable and assessable. In other words, the learner can be tested and assessed against the criteria both in the classroom and back on the job.
In his seminal book, “Preparing Instructional Objectives,” Robert Mager presents the idea that job performance should be assessed against measurable standards within defined conditions. He is the first to develop the notion of performance-based learning objectives. Mager's model for instructional objectives focuses on what people should be able to do as a result of training. They are set after the analysis phase of instructional design, referred to again while training and being written, and again when tests, evaluations and assessments are written. These same objectives should subsequently be used by the employee’s manager to assess if the employee is able to perform as per the objective.
Writing Performance-Based Learning Objectives
When writing learning objectives, the trainer must consider what is being learned, to what level or degree it will be learned and how it will be learned. Performance-based learning objectives have three components. The first is “performance”--what the learner should be able to do. The second is “condition”--the conditions under which the performance occurs. The third is “criterion”--the quality or required level of performance. This model is practical and useful, as each component corresponds, literally, to a sentence part on which the trainer can model an objective.
Example and Considerations
One example of a performance-based learning objective is the following: At the end of this course, the driver should be able to maneuver a three-axled vehicle around an obstacle course, in wet or wintry weather, without knocking down cones. The first part of the sentence addresses performance, the second condition and the third criterion. Different types of training, though, require different types of objectives. Courses differ: for example driving lessons, time management courses, software training and physical education instruction. When writing objectives, you must take different learning domains into consideration and use relevant descriptions.
Assessing Learning Objectives
Clear, measurable objectives at the start of a course form the foundation upon which course content, assessments and evaluations are built. The trainer should validate that objectives are achieved with relevant assessment and evaluation of performance. It’s worth noting here that a good way to gain “buy-in” to training from managers and staff is to engage them in all steps of the process. Getting them to agree on objectives will carry through to helping in the formulation of agreed testing evaluation materials for the performance outcomes expected back at the office or on the shop floor after the training intervention has occurred.