In the following pages a comprehensive system of designing training programmes will be described. Generally, the methods outlined here follow the principles of a concept known as Training by Objectives (TBO). This system is closely connected to the procedures of Learning by Objectives (LBO) and its related offshoots. In a distant way, it is also related to the more well known Management by Objectives (MBO) concept. What all these have in common is the point of view that any activity must be guided by the end result one is working toward. This seems like such an obvious idea that it hardly bears mentioning, but losing sight of a project’s goal is a surprisingly common occurrence. All of these objective-oriented systems were developed in order to keep projects “on track.” Additional terms for this model of training are Criterion Referenced Learning (CRL) and Criterion Referenced Training (CRT). We prefer the former term (CRL) because it directs attention to learning rather than training; it is the learning of trainees that matters after all, not the instructional activity of trainers. The terminology stems from the idea training must be measured (or referenced) against a specified result (or criterion).
The training by objectives model was built upon systems analysis thinking, and was originally offered as a “scientific” way of organizing programmes to make the somewhat unpredictable nature of developing human resources more methodical. Systems analysis attempts to apply principles of logic to complex, overlapping, and interactive processes such as training. This is done as one way of making them more understandable and predictable. Indeed, all types of objectives-based processes emphasize clarity and consistency, and these are considered to be their chief benefits. Systems analysis attempts to reduce the difficulties in understanding complex systems by reducing major portions of processes to simple “black boxes.” The purpose of simplifying them is to make them easier to understand and to reduce confusion that would result if one tried to comprehend all at once the complicated inner working of the processes. By shifting our attention from the complex interior aspects to larger external features, we can more fully grasp outlines of the whole process.
Systems analysis shrinks entire processes into an examination of “inputs” and “outputs.” Inputs to a process consist of all the resources necessary for the process to operate. These include tangible assets such as raw materials, but can also be intangible resources such as information or ideas. Outputs are the finished products produced by processes. Once again, outputs can be tangible or intangible results. The process is made up of all those activities that work with the inputs to produce the outputs. In systems analysis, there is usually an additional part of the entire “system.” It is a comparative phase that describes the difference between the input and the output. This permits adjustments in the process so that the outputs of the system can be evaluated and adjustments made either in the inputs or in the processes. Through evaluation the “improvements” produced by the process can be optimized. To see how this works in practice, suppose we wished to describe an automobile factory in systems analysis terms. The inputs would be made up of all the parts that go into the finished autos, plastic, metal, rubber, fabric, and so on. Other inputs would include human workers, financial resources, and physical plant (the buildings and equipment). The outputs would be the finished automobiles. The purpose of a systems analysis is to produce the best possible finished products (automobiles) using the least resources (inputs). The comparison of inputs and outputs will allow managers to adjust the processes so as to achieve the optimum operation.
Becoming bogged down in details is not uncommon in a complex activity such as training. One important advantage of a systems analysis perspective is that one is forced to take the longer, wider view of an organization, focusing less on the specific technicalities. The issue is not “how” or “why” things get done, rather “just getting the job done properly.” When applied to training, a systems analysis begins with an examination of the input to the training process. While there are many inputs—trainers, facilities, training materials, and the like—the key element is the training needs analysis. The training needs define the work to be achieved in the “process” of training. These are then laid out in training objectives, in keeping with procedures described in Section Two. The process, of course, is the prescribed training programme, designed to answer the issues raised by the training needs analysis. The outputs of the process are the trained personnel. Evaluation of the abilities of trainees following their training programmes will reveal whether the objectives spelled out earlier have been met. In order for this approach to work, the results of the evaluation must be used to adjust the training process and to revise the formulation of objectives. Feeding back information about the successes and failures of training to the needs analysis phase improves the effectiveness of training. Continual adjustment in the processes of training keeps the training from becoming static, allowing it to be refined to achieve optimum results as conditions and circumstances change.
Some experts refer to this model as a “cybernetic system” of training. It is made up of four key phases: 1) training needs analysis, 2) the training programme, 3) training programme evaluation, and 4) feedback. The main advantage of this model is that it produces reliable results. If there are changes in the inputs, for example in the performance levels of trainees, the evaluation and feedback stages permit rapid adjustment of training programmes so that objectives can continue to be met. Predictability gives managers clear expectations so they can make plans with confidence that intended results will be obtained.
It may not be evident why objectives are necessary. After collecting information in the training needs analysis, it might seem perfectly clear what skills and knowledge are lacking. But, even when the needs seem clear, the particulars must be studied. When the TNA exercise is finished, care has to be exercised to ensure that training will actually correct deficiencies identified. Writing training objectives in an orderly and precise manner provides a discipline and enforces on the trainers the requirement to deeply analyse conditions found in the workplace. Much training is wasted due to a poor match between needs and the kind of training actually delivered. This can be largely avoided through a meticulous and reflective method of formulating learning objectives. Training objectives are not only for the use of the trainer, but for the trainees too. They need to fully understand the aims of training in order for them to be committed to the learning tasks and to those goals.
Good objectives produce a surprising range of positive results. Of course objectives focus training, giving a sharply defined purpose to the activity. The clarity of detailed objectives avoids misunderstandings and it also helps reduce the likelihood of oversights or gaps in the training programme. Beyond this, objectives provide additional, often more subtle, benefits. Just a few can be mentioned here. First, objectives provide consistent outcomes. This can be an important consideration in large training organizations where a number of different trainers might be responsible for different groups of learners in the same training activity. By working with the same objectives, each trainer can be confident that all groups will achieve the same, or at least similar, results. To be sure, different people will have different ways of training on any given topic, but this hardly matters as long as the final results are comparable. Because the aims of training are spelled out in objectives, it becomes easier to select the best training strategies—what sequencing of topics will work best or what learning aids can best support the training, for example. Even training exercises and practical projects become easier to specify when the objectives are properly laid out. If the objectives are correctly constructed, the timing of different parts of the curriculum will be easier to estimate. In most training activities, the job of timing and scheduling is a significant portion of the planner’s responsibilities. Courses have to begin and end at predetermined dates, and seldom is there an opportunity for adjusting length or timing once training is underway.
Objectives also provide a rational basis for the evaluation of training. In effect, objectives set up the benchmarks through which effectiveness of training can be judged. If trainees meet the standards proposed in the objectives, then it is reasonable for the activity to be viewed as a success.
(Of course, this assumes that the objectives are suitable for the training needs identified in the TNA; it is quite possible to have a training failure that stems from a faulty needs analysis.) Learning objectives make training evaluation more “objective” (no pun intended), because the assessment of the programme is tied to what it set out to do in the beginning, not some arbitrarily chosen set of criteria.
Five questions to answer.
Construction of a set of training objectives must be based upon results of the training needs analysis. A vital outcome of the TNA is a report that characterizes performance discrepancies, as described in an earlier section. These performance discrepancies represent the difference between expected work outcomes and the work results that were actually obtained. George Odiorne described two kinds of training objectives that flow from training needs analyses. First are objectives that restore the status quo. In these cases, something has caused deviation from accepted norms, a deviation sufficiently serious to provoke action. Training thus is required to restore conditions to the norm. The second type of objective includes ones that are meant to be innovative or to produce a breakthrough to a new, higher level of excellence. Both motives can be considered solutions for problems. Even though a problem might not seem the proper way to view such needs, this is actually what they are—the organization has a person or groups of persons whose abilities do not measure up to its requirements. This is definitely a problem!
In developing training objectives to correct such “problems,” start by sketching out the answers to five questions:
(1) What are the present levels of performance or specific conditions?
The answer to this question should clearly state what is actually going on in the workplace. The more specific and the more simply stated the problem, the easier it will be to transcribe the ideas into objectives. The statement can be in plain language, perhaps no longer than one or two sentences. Example: “A new digital editing system will be in place within two months and staff members need to be proficient in use of the new software and hardware.”
(2) What are the desired levels of performance or specific conditions?
Again, in a minimum of words, state the results that need to be achieved by training. The results desired must be realistic, given the resources and time likely to be allocated for training. At this stage, reflect on whether the desired levels are ones that training is likely to attain. Example: “Skills on the digital editing system must be at least equivalent to current ones and must be achieved well in advance of implementation so that the transition will be smooth and seamless, with no interruption to productions.”
(3) Nature and size of the group to be trained.
Who is to be trained will determine the sort of training objectives that are necessary. The size of the training group might also be a factor in how objectives are formulated. The nature of the group can include any aspect that might influence the state of knowledge, maturity, inherent abilities, or motivation. Example: “Editors number about eleven, mostly mid-career staff, including a mix of men and women with secondary school education, but a few with university degrees.”
(4) What are the benefits that will be realized if training is successful?
State clearly what positive things will occur to the organization, if training achieves its desired result. Keep in mind that training is primarily intended to enhance the organization, not individuals, the public, the state or some other equally deserving but irrelevant party. Being clear about the consequences that are intended will help give objectives more impact. Example: “Viewers will be unaware of the new editor when it is put in place, except that the video quality will be noticeably better.”
(5) How will the changes in staff capability be measured?
It is important that changes expected to occur through training are properly documented. A training department needs to be accountable for its programmes, and this means that training must be evaluated. Write a few notes about possible ways of assessing the outcome of training. Example: “Production department discrepancy report totals will remain unchanged or decline following training. Evaluation of edited features will show an increase in technical quality and no decrease in production values.”
Selecting performance levels.
Answers to the questions just asked will sharpen the objectives presented in training programmes. Even with the focused objectives, another issue remains to be considered—at what level of achievement should the training be targeted? Matching the objectives to the job needs necessitates a judgment about how much improvement in performance is required. Usually this takes the form of some type of cost vs. benefit analysis. Two kinds of errors can occur at this stage—formulating objectives that call for performance that exceed job requirements, or ones that call for performance that do not meet job requirements. To solve these problems training planners need to continually refer back to the TNA during the development of training objectives.
Will trainees who meet the objectives fully qualify for the jobs they are expected to perform? Supervisors usually expect trainees to step into positions ready to go to work, possibly with a brief orientation on-the-job training session. If trainees do not meet the requirements, who do you think will be blamed? The fault undoubtedly will be assigned to the trainer or the training programme. To avoid an instance of this sort, it is important to first be certain that the objectives really do address the needs identified in the needs analysis. Then it is prudent to involve supervisors and other managers in verifying that the objectives do indeed satisfy their requirements. Doing this avoids unpleasant misunderstandings later on. This is not only a defensive strategy, but supervisors can offer a valuable external check on the decisions being made in the planning process. Having the opinion of another person not involved in training frequently adds another valuable dimension to planning.
Will trainees actually be learning more than is required on their jobs? At first glance this might seem to be a small problem; extra learning might contribute in some vague way to the quality of the training, one might think. But is important to recall that learning which cannot be used soon after training is seldom retained and thus is wasted effort.
The answers you developed in the exercise just described should be kept close at hand as you work your way through the objective drafting exercise. They can provide a roadmap as you weigh different alternatives open to you as the planner of this training exercise. In the explanation to follow keep in mind that our main concern is with what the learner will be able to do, not what the trainer is going to instruct or teach. This is the basic philosophy of learner-centred training, which you‘ve probably already discovered is an organizing principle of this manual. Planning and training should revolve around the trainees’ needs, not the trainer’s.
Examine your answer to the second question in the preceding section “What are the desired levels of performance or specific conditions?” These serve as reference points you can use in preparing objectives. It explains what you expect of your trainees once the training is completed. Only after you have developed a set of objectives can the plan take up the procedures, content, and methods related to those objectives. These methods are ones that cause the trainee to deal with the appropriate subject matter in accordance with the principles of adult learning, and the methods eventually lead to an evaluation of the trainee’s performance against those specified objectives. Think of these objectives as a destination. It is impossible to choose the best route to the end of your journey until you know what the exact destination is. If you don’t know what your destination is, then anyplace will do! So if you hope to efficiently achieve training objectives, you must first be sure that the objectives are stated clearly and unambiguously.
First, a definition: An objective is an intent communicated by a statement describing a proposed change in a learner and his or her behaviour. The statement should describe what the trained person will be like when the training is completed. It should describe a pattern of behaviour (that is, performance level) the trainee will demonstrate. Without a suitable objective it is impossible to evaluate a course or training programme properly. There is no proper basis for selecting participants, determining contents, choosing instructional methods, materials, or facilities. In short, it is impossible to make any useful plan until the objectives have been fully decided upon. This, for example, is like the technician, who will first find out what has to be done before selecting tools to do the job. If you don’t do this, you will waste a lot of time, effort, money, and you may not achieve anything worthwhile.
Another very important point about sharply defined objectives is that they provide you with a standard against which one can measure the learner’s performance. Objectives allow trainers to determine whether trainees are able to perform in a desired manner. If evaluation is to serve its purpose, it must measure performance against the stated objectives. This also allows trainees to measure their own progress toward the desired level of performance. If motivated trainees know and understand objectives, they can assist the trainer in working toward the objectives. Of course, as noted earlier, the objectives must be realistic. It must be possible for the participants nominated to training to reach the desired performance standard within the time allocated for training. Unrealistic objectives can be counterproductive; trainees won’t put forth satisfactory effort if they feel objectives cannot reasonably be met.
The learner-centred approach requires that the training plan be built upon the everyday working requirements of each person’s job. This means that the training must reflect—or even better—simulate the actual job situation. This aim can be accomplished by ensuring that the objectives fit within working conditions the planner found in the training needs analysis. Good training objectives should enable participants to imagine how they will perform on the job once training is completed. They understand what is expected, and they can see how the behavioural changes will be evident in the workplace. Behaviour is the proper term here; every training programme is meant to alter in some important way how people behave in their jobs.
Now, another definition: Learning is a change in observable behaviour that occurs as a result of experience. This definition has two key elements, observation and experience. All learning of interest to trainers must result in tangible behavioural changes; people should be able to see those changes. At first glance, one might think it possible that training could result in changes internal to learners that might not be visible to others. But the reasoning here is that unless those internal changes affect in some fashion the way people act on the job, then they cannot be important in the work setting. Internal changes may matter to the person receiving training, but if we cannot observe the result, they cannot have any significant impact on job performance. Granted, some changes produced by training have to be observed indirectly. If, for instance, training objectives call for changed attitudes, they will be observable through the new behaviour patterns that occur because of the changes in attitudes.
A further definition: Behaviour is (for purposes of training, at least) the observable and measurable activity of a learner. As trainers we need to be able to see (observe) the behaviour that is to be altered by training. Otherwise how could we tell if learning is taking place? And we must not only be able to see the behaviour, we must be able to gauge how well that behaviour conforms to our objectives. Moreover, as training proceeds we will want to be able to judge whether progress is being made toward the objective and to determine how quickly progress is being made. If we can see that progress is being made, we would want to continue training. When progress stops, some adjustment in training must be made to restart learning and to continue moving toward the training objectives. If objectives are correctly formulated they should contain information about how behaviour can be measured. If our objective is to be able to operate a digital audio tape recorder in a particular way, we should be able to decide whether our training has met its objective. We would make that judgment on the basis of our trainees’ performance, and we would be able to judge the readiness of trainees according to the standards set up for the training.
Can learning occur that is not observable? Yes, of course. But here is the issue for training: We are interested in changing the way people do their jobs; if training is to be of any value, it must alter job performance for the better, and this certainly will be observable. It is quite possible for one to learn something that never results in new or different behaviour. Make no mistake, this can be real learning; but in training terms, such learning is considered irrelevant because it does not influence job effectiveness. Suppose a trainee memorized a list of random words. Being able to recall the list would represent genuine learning, but of what value would it be?
Another way of describing a training objective is as a statement that precisely and completely defines behaviours the trainee will exhibit at the end of training. The precision is required to make certain everyone included in the training exercise—the trainer, the trainees, the sponsoring organization, supervisors, managers, in short all parties who might have a stake in the outcome of training—understands exactly what the training is expected to produce. As already stated, the trainees need to have a clear picture of what is expected in order for them to participate in meeting the objectives. If the trainees do not know what trainers want, they can’t contribute as successfully to meeting those goals. Objectives also must state the complete aims of the training exercise. This point is simply a reminder that objectives should identify even those facets that one might be assume or take for granted. In short, every single intended behaviour change must be spelled out in objectives.
Training objectives must follow a definite, highly exact format to conform to professional practices and to match the philosophy of the “training by objectives” model mentioned earlier. According to this approach, each objective must contain three distinct elements. Those three are: 1) terminal behaviour, 2) conditions, and 3) standards. As a rule, all three are contained within the single sentence that makes up a training objective. A training programme should have a list of objectives laid out in this format, perhaps as many as five to ten, as the activity begins.
Terminal behaviours set out in objectives are descriptive terms that define the capabilities intended to be achieved at the end of training. It is what the trainee will be able to do when training is finished. The terminal behaviour described in objectives must be observable and measurable in order to be usable for training purposes. This requirement is necessary so that the behaviour can be assessed properly—if one cannot clearly see and accurately judge the behaviour, then one cannot be certain when or if the objective has been met. By measure we do not mean that the behaviour must literally be judged by a numeric scale, but that at least it should be described in actions that can be classified easily.
The conditions included within objectives are the circumstances under which the terminal behaviour must be evident. Generally, the conditions are needed to spell out the exact situation surrounding performance of the behaviour, including every single factor that might modify the behaviour’s accomplishment. For instance, an objective for training a track sprinter might include as conditions “without wind assistance,” or “wearing spiked track shoes,” or “on a grass track.” The conditions specified within an objective provide a set of rules under which the required terminal behaviour must be performed by trainees. Finally, to restate and emphasize: any aspect of the setting that might affect either the quality or the manner in which trainees demonstrate their learning must be identified and described in the training objective. Suppose trainees are expected to perform under time limitations, or suppose learners must act out their terminal behaviour under adverse physical conditions (inclement weather, poor facilities, or distractions), these too should be specified as conditions within objectives.
The standard refers to the performance level or quality expected to be achieved at the end of training. This also is often called the “criterion,” or the test through which qualities of performance can be judged. As described earlier, this is what is meant by criterion referenced learning or training. The standard provides a precision and clarity sufficient to make it possible for the trainer to determine positively when the objective has been met satisfactorily. Because the terminal behaviour must be observable and measurable, the standard defines the exact measured stage, calibre, number, height, length, or other quality of whatever behaviour is the subject of training. Once the standard has been achieved under terms laid out in the conditions, the training objective will be determined to be fulfilled and the training work can move on.
A few examples might help illustrate how suitable objectives are devised. Consider as an objective “to be able to ride a bicycle without assistance and without placing a foot on the ground a distance of 300 meters on a macadam or concrete roadway.” An experienced trainer should be able to pick out the terminal behaviour, conditions and standard with ease. The terminal behaviour in this objective is to “ride a bicycle.” The standard is “without placing a foot on the ground” and “a distance of 300 meters.” And the conditions are “macadam or concrete roadway” and “without assistance.” The term “without assistance” might alternatively be interpreted as a standard, though it is probably best described as a condition. To have a degree of doubt about whether a term represents a standard or a condition is not unusual, and should not be a concern. In this example, the main point is that the bicycle must be ridden without any assistance, by which we suppose is meant without the aid of another person holding the rider steady. You probably learned to ride a bicycle by having a person hold you upright while you pedalled. Eventually, you developed your motor skills sufficiently to be able to ride without the prop provided by another person and you could ride away unaided. At this point you truly were riding a bicycle on your own.
Consider the objective “to understand the principles of writing objectives so that objectives will be written clearly and precisely.” This objective is similar to ones sometimes found in training programmes, but it has defects that will pose real difficulties for trainers. First, what is the terminal behaviour? As written, the terminal behaviour called for in this example is “to understand the principles of writing objectives.” The problem here is that understanding is a behaviour that is definitely not observable and it is probably not measurable. Understanding is an internal state that cannot be seen directly, though it could be argued that it might be observed indirectly through other behaviours. Even if this were true, it would be much better to describe the behaviour in terms that can be observed. In this example, observable behaviours would be those that would be affected by understanding of the principles of writing objectives. Therefore, it would be preferable to devise an objective along the lines of “to be able to write objectives containing terminal behaviours, conditions, and standards . . .” We can safely assume that if the trainees have the ability to write properly constructed objectives, they must possess understanding of the “principles of writing objectives.” Or if they do not understand, but they can write objectives properly, then what possible difference can it make? There is a second problem with the objective in this example. It has no conditions. This implies the behaviour should be performed at any time anywhere and under any conditions. This is probably not reasonable, so the conditions really ought to be added. The terms “clearly and precisely” are, of course, standards. Though in this example the trainer has considerable latitude in interpreting the meaning of clearly and precisely, in many situations terms like these may be the best that can be formulated.
The failure to use behaviours that can be directly observed is probably the most common error in the preparation of training objectives. Vague terms compound the problem greatly, too. Take as an example the expression “to improve the ability to edit news copy “incorporated as part of a training objective. This expression can—and undoubtedly will be—interpreted differently by various persons involved in training. How much improvement is enough? What is improvement? How can improvement be measured? All these questions are encouraged by the lack of specificity in the statement. It is possible to correct this shortcoming by adding clauses that pin down exactly what the training is expected to do. For example, the objective could be rewritten as “to improve the ability to edit radio news copy so that stories’ meanings are clear to the average listener.” This does seem to be a better objective, but we are still left with question. What is meant by clear? What is clear enough? And who is an average listener? The addition of the radio specification is helpful—knowing the medium for which the news copy will be written aids the trainer in knowing what kind of editing will be required because editing practices are different in radio as compared with, say, newspapers.
Here is another objective for illustration and study: “to know how to compute current flow correctly in a circuit based upon Ohm’s law.” This objective resembles the objective presented in a previous example. The terminal behaviour is clear, but again it lacks qualities that permit it to be observed and measured. Is it possible to detect what another person knows by direct observation? Definitely not. Knowing is an internal state that may not have any external indicators. Most people do not give visible clues about their inner thoughts, unless something causes them to exhibit behaviours that betray their thinking. Here is a simple way of determining whether the terminal behaviour is suitable. Note that in all cases the word that describes the terminal behaviour is a verb—knowing, understanding, and riding, as in the examples here. Verbs can be active or not, but since we want to observe the behaviour, we require that the verb be active. So, in drafting training objectives, always make certain that the word used to describe the terminal behaviour is a verb and that it is active; choose words such as writing, riding, or selecting rather than understanding, thinking, or knowing. Continuing with the analysis of this training objective, can you pick out the standard? It is “correctly” of course. Words like correctly, properly, appropriately, are frequently employed as standards. Their use may or may not be a good choice. In this case, there can be little doubt about what it the correct answer; electronic students would all agree on the correct solution to Ohm’s law problems. But if the subject is less clearly defined, for example set lighting or graphic design, there can be a wide difference of opinion on what is “correct” or “suitable.” Generally, it is best to avoid words of this kind, but at times the training planner may have no other choice. Finally, what are the conditions? There is only one, calculations must be based on Ohm’s law.
Finally, consider the objective, “to provide the trainee with a general appreciation of the needs for safety in the workplace.” No doubt, this is a laudable goal. Safety is always a concern where potential for injury and accidents are high, as is sometimes the case in broadcasting. Television studios can be dangerous places with high voltage exposure, heavy lighting instruments suspended over personnel on the floor, and the need to work in heavy shadows. Still, the goal spelled out seems quite unfocused. What does it mean to have a “general appreciation” for safety? Furthermore, how this would be observed is not immediately apparent. In this case, the “fuzziness” of the aims makes this objective unsatisfactory. But there is an additional problem here. Note that the objective begins “to provide. . . .” Providing the trainee is an activity of the trainer. We must have goals that are stated in terms of what the trainees will be able to do, not what the trainer does in the training exercise. Otherwise, we might satisfy the objective by merely “providing” the trainees with the information required to “appreciate” safety, but it might have absolutely no effect whatsoever on the trainees. Therefore, it is never wise to write objectives that refer to behaviour on the trainer’s part. The thinking here, as noted previously, is that in a learner-centred model, it is the trainee that matters, not the trainer.
Because good training objectives require some type of visible behaviour, and because it is preferable to employ active rather than passive verbs, training objectives frequently take the following form: “to be able to . . . .” with the verb followed by the standard and conditions. To some this might seem rigidly formulaic, but it does provide a familiar and easily understood framework for the learning objective. Doing something—as in “to be able to . . . “—states clearly that the learner must be able to demonstrate their new capabilities by acting out a behaviour. If a training objective begins with this simple phrase, constructing the terminal behaviour will hardly ever go wrong. This convention is so widely accepted that the introductory phrase “to be able to . . . “ is frequently indicated simply by the acronym TBAT. When you see an objective beginning TBAT, it means “to be able to . . .”
Conditions are a source of problems in training objectives mainly when they are incomplete. Usually this happens when the person writing the objectives takes for granted that the unstated conditions are understood by trainers. Take for example this objective: “to be able to list the ten different operating modes of the video mixer/switcher.” Sounds fine, doesn’t it? But there are questions one could ask. Is the list to be offered from memory, or from notes, operating manual, or other document? A person reading this objective would have to guess that the ten modes would be recalled from memory, and not from some other documentation. The implication of this objective might not be clear to everyone. Similarly, any kind of tool, appliance, reference, document, or other support should not be assumed, unless explicitly specified within the training objective. Sometimes even clothing and safety devices are included as part of the conditions for performance of learning objectives. The setting of the performance might also need to be described (indoors, outdoors, in a studio with full lighting, and so on). Sometimes the list can become very long. Don’t be overly concerned if this happens; length is not as important a consideration as thoroughness and clarity.
There are several ways that standards can present problems in training objectives. One way to avoid problems is to ask whether the standards are achievable. Even though you might wish to reach a high level of performance, it is not a good strategy to spell out a standard that very few will be able to reach. If many trainees find it impossible to meet the standard, their motivation will decline, and they may lose their commitment to the entire training project. If a large portion of the trainees do not succeed, it also makes the trainers appear ineffectual.
It goes without saying that the usual rules of good writing apply when drafting training objectives. Don’t be wordy. Do cut out any unnecessary language. As stressed throughout this section, you should strive for clarity of meaning. Despite what was just said about the possible need for long lists of conditions, do try to keep it brief. Long sentences are hard to understand. If you find it absolutely necessary to include a lot of detail, break the objective into two or more sentences. Although there is no rule requiring it, most training objectives are only one or two sentences in length. This is a convention you are certainly allowed to break when it suits your purpose.
Learning domains and learning objectives.
Objectives concern learning that falls within the three major domains—cognitive, psychomotor skills, and attitude. Each domain requires a different type of objective because of the dissimilar learning each requires. Consider the cognitive domain. Cognition requires mental activity that onlookers can seldom see. For this reason, cognitive learning objectives typically require the learning to act out behaviour that will demonstrate learning. Objectives like this might require learners to “name” or to “identify correctly” a list of facts, or carry out some other act that will make the cognition visible to trainers.
Actually, experts often prefer to divide the cognitive learning domain into two subcategories. The first is known as information gain. Simply acquiring knowledge—that is, knowing facts—is one example of learning within this portion of the cognitive domain. The other type of cognitive learning goes beyond merely memorizing information, it involves mental skills. This subcategory requires a learner to utilize facts in a systematic process to produce a prescribed result. Dividing one number into another is an example of a mental skill. This kind of skill requires different learning abilities than simply memorizing, for instance, the multiplication table. Another example is learning a new language. Learning the meaning of words is primarily a task of memorizing translated meaning. But putting words together to
make meaningful sentences and paragraphs demands a different set of capabilities.
For training objectives of the mental skill sort, learners are usually required to demonstrate their mastery of the skill itself. They might be asked to “divide two three-digit numbers together following the prescribed procedure, producing a correct answer.” Likewise, learners might be requested to “construct sentences using proper grammar and syntax and with correct vocabulary use.” As can be seen, objectives like these call for learners to make observable the changes in their mental capabilities brought about by training.
The second category, psychomotor skills, seems on its surface to be the most straightforward. After all, by definition they require a physical act of some kind. Merely observing the physical act provides trainers an opportunity to verify that the learning has been transferred as intended. For psychomotor objectives, the only issue that may need special care is defining actions so that they can be studied and measured appropriately and accurately. For these kinds of learning objectives, a simple demonstration is usually all that is required. An objective such as “TBAT swim 100 meters unaided and without stopping in an outdoor swimming pool” or “TBAT to make clean edits on a personal computer using Pro-Tools® audio editing software” might be all that is necessary.
The affect or attitude domain of learning presents the greatest difficulty in writing training objectives. Several reasons for this can be mentioned. First, by definition attitudes are internal states that cannot be observed directly. Furthermore, attitudes and beliefs are often elusive. To make attitudes visible to an observer it frequently involves some type of pencil-and-paper questionnaire. There are really no other convenient ways of asking learners to reveal their states of mind. However, it is possible that they may not be able or willing to disclose their true feelings. After training, it is usually obvious what attitudes the trainer wants the learner to adopt, so the use of questionnaires tends to result in learners responding in ways that they believe trainers “want,” whether or not they genuinely reflect the learner’s true personal views. It often happens that a course intended to modify attitudes, such as ones on workplace safety, results in significant changes as measured by questionnaires. But whether those measured changes result in altered behaviour in the workplace is an entirely different matter, and the desired behavioural changes may not be accurately predicted by questionnaires.
The issue of attitude measurement will be taken up in a later section on training evaluation, but a few points are worth considering here. First, because the attitude training is invisible to onlookers, its objectives—like other kinds of objectives already mentioned—should be stated in behavioural terms only. Even if you wish to change attitudes toward workplace safety, what matters is how staff members exhibit safety consciousness through their behaviour. It helps greatly if the attitudes to be influenced can be phrased so that the intent of training is clear. In other words, the objectives should point to the positive results of behaving safely in the workplace—results that benefit both the staff member and the organization. A particular problem lies in stating standards for attitude training. Assigning levels or measuring attitudes is not easy to do with precision, hence defining a standard and making it clear to learners presents its own problems.
In summary, the keys to writing good training objectives are simple: Clear, precisely worded statements of goals stated in terms of changes in learner’s behaviour specifying the conditions and standards of performance. Learning by objectives is a model of training that should provide both the trainer and the learner with a good road map toward a productive outcome. Finally, the use of this approach will surely produce predictable and verifiable learning gains in training activities.
Odiorne, George S. (1970). Training by objectives; an economic approach to management training: New York: Macmillan.