Let’s talk about you. You are someone who helps other people learn. You might be a teacher and help people learn in the classroom. You might be a trainer and help people learn and work. You might even be an instructional designer and help create the curriculum and courses that help people learn in the classroom or online. No matter who you are, if you want to help people learn, you need to create objectives. Objectives describe what students will be able to do and what they will know when they are done learning. Why are clear objectives important? Clear objectives help you create agreement on the knowledge and skills that students will have at the end of class. Clear objectives serve as the roadmap or the North Star for making sure that your classes include all the content and activities that are needed to make sure students know what you want them to know and that they can do what you want them to do by the end of the class. And finally, objectives are also critical for evolution because a well written objective tells you exactly what behaviors and knowledge you need to measure as part of your evaluation. Robert Mager, in his book, Preparing Instructional Objectives, says that an affective behavioral objective has 3 parts: performance, conditions, and criterion. Performance describes what the students will be able to do. It describes what a student will do when demonstrating mastery of the objective. For example, the student will be able to list or describe or demonstrate or persuade or design. Some performance may be more easily visible and observable than others. Some might be less easy to observe, but in behavioral objectives, you can in fact observe the behavior. This means that you’ll be using to describe the performance in your objectives. Describing the performance and the objective gives you the guidance, the north star that indicates not only the desired performance, but it also points you to the content and activities that you need for that performance as well as how you will evaluate that performance. The second part of behavioral objectives described by Robert Mager are conditions. And conditions describe the circumstances under which the performance will take place.
This includes any tools or resources. Consider what a student will be expected to use when performing. For example: given a user’s manual, given the opportunity to interview a patient, given a hammer. Or consider what the student will not be allowed to use when performing: without input from the instructor, without using a manual. Or consider the environment for the performance: in a machine shop, in front of a class, when facing an angry customer. Finally, criterion describes the level of acceptance for success. This is often an expression of speed or accuracy. For example: in less than 5 minutes, with no errors, or so that it is no longer leaking.
So those are the 3 parts of an effective objective. Now let’s take a look at a few examples. Here is a poorly written objective; the student will understand the benefit of evaluation. What’s the performance measure with this objective? The student will understand?
How do we measure understanding? What’s the criterion that we’re using to define what is and is not an acceptable level of understanding? You can see that there are some problems with this poor example because there is not a clear performance, there are not clear conditions, and there is not clear criterion. A more effective objective is; the student will be able to list, without notes, at least 3 benefits of evaluation. You see that this more effective objective includes the performance: the student will be able to list. It includes the conditions: without notes.
And it includes the criterion: at least 3 benefits of evaluation. Here’s another poorly written objective; student will know how to change a tire. Again, how will we know if the students knows how to change a tire. I may make some assumptions about what it means to know how to change a tire, but objectives are not about assumptions. We need to be clear so that all the teachers and all the students are clear and have the same idea of what they student should be able to do. A more effective objective is; the student will be able to describe, without using the manual, the 5 steps for changing a tire. This more effective objective includes the performance: the student will be able to describe, the conditions: without using the manual, and the criterion: the 5 steps for changing a tire. But this isn’t the only possible more effective objective that we could create for this poor example. Here’s another objective. Let’s say, for example, we want the student to be able to demonstrate how to change a tire given the necessary tools in less than 15 minutes. That’s an effective objective because it includes the performance: how to change a tire, the conditions: given the necessary tools, and the criterion: in less than 15 minutes. But it’s a different level of performance than the previous objective. With that example, the student will be able to demonstrate how to change a tire given the necessary tools in less than 15 minutes, you get an understanding from the objective of what it is you need to do in class from a content and from an activity standpoint, and it’s also clear what you need to do in order to evaluate this objective. You need to have teh student change a tire, and it needs to be with the necessary tools in less than 15 minutes. But that’s a very different objective than the previous objective that we wrote, that the student will be able to describe, without using a manual, the 5 steps for changing a tire. That objective also points us to what we need to do from a content standpoint and activities stand point and an evaluation standpoint, but it’s different than that second objective. What we need to make sure that we do is create the objectives that describe the performance that we’re really looking for in a class. Here’s another rewriting of that very same objective. In this case, the student will be able to evaluate without help from the instructor whether a tire has been changed successfully. And again, you can see where this objective, like the North Star, will point us towards what we need to include in classroom, a content standpoint, from a practice and activity standpoint, and it helps us understand how we can evaluate this objective. This is objective, but it’s a different objective from the previous 2 objectives. This objectives requires a different performance under different conditions and with different criterion. Each of these 3 objectives are written effectively, but as instructors, we need to determine the level of performance or mastery that we expect from the students. If we have the correct objectives, those objectives will serve as the North Star that point us to the content, the activities, and the revelation that need for our class. If we do not have the right objectives, we will lead our students in the wrong direction, and this is why taking the time to create the right objectives is the most important thing
that you can do as an instructor or as an instructional designer. Everything else that you do follows your objectives. Now that you know the 3 parts of an effective objective, you too can create more effective objectives for your class.