Where Are We Going? Determining Course Objectives
When you sit down to design a course you need a clear set of goals or objectives. Think of these objectives as your course’s roadmap. You wouldn’t set off on a road trip without map or GPS to guide the way. When your learners sit down at a course they expect a clear map of where they’re going, what they’re going to learn, and how they’ll know they’ve learned it.
An objective has three parts:
Performance is the behavior you expect the learner to perform. The behavior should be measurable and specific. Here are some bad examples.
- Become familiar with US government regulations for the manufacture of medicines
- Develop an awareness of uncommon drug side effects
The problem with these objectives is they’re neither measurable nor specific. How will you measure your learners’ familiarity with US government regulations, or their awareness of common drug side effects? You can’t. Plus, these are broad topics covering a tremendous scope of information. It’s far better to narrow your focus to a specific topic and objective. Here are some better examples.
- Explain the FDA’s 21 Code of Federal Regulations Part 210
- Identify nine uncommon side effects of Sertraline
These are better because they pinpoint specific behaviors. Notice the action verbs “explain” and “identify.” They’re much stronger and more specific than “become familiar” or “develop.” Explaining a specific code or identifying specific side effects is an observable, measurable behavior.
Conditions are the circumstances in which the learner will perform the behavior. There is a big difference between, “The learner will identify nine uncommon side effects of Sertraline from memory,” and “The learner will identify nine uncommon side effects of Sertraline using the AHFS DI from the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.”
Will your learners be using study aides or working from memory? Will they be performing the behavior alone or in front of an audience? The more specific your conditions, the better your learners will understand what’s expected of them.
Criterion is a description of what constitutes an acceptable performance. This is the evaluation portion where you explain how learners will know they’ve mastered the skill. Criterion involves either speed or accuracy.
Speed indicates a time limit. For example:
- Explain the FDA’s 21 Code of Federal Regulations Part 210 in less than 10 minutes
Accuracy describes the range of acceptable performance. For example:
- Correctly identify 8 out of 9 uncommon side effects of Sertraline
When you combine performance, conditions, and criterion, you get a clear course objective that:
- Guides activities, instruction materials, and assessments
- Tells your learners what’s expected of them and what they’ll learn
- Keeps the course focused on specific skills and goals
Here are our examples with all three parts:
- Learners will explain before a panel the FDA’s 21 Code of Federal Regulations Part 210 in less than 10 minutes
- Learners will correctly identify from memory 8 out of 9 uncommon side effects of Sertraline
Before we part ways, here are some final tips for writing good course objectives.
- Focus on the intended outcomes. What do you want your learners to be able to DO?
- Stick to specific and measurable goals. Use concrete verbs like “solve” or “identify.” Avoid “fuzzy” verbs like “appreciate” or “understand.”
- Say what the learner will do, not the course or instructor. Rather than, “This course will teach learners how to…” write, “After completing this course learners will be able to…”
Keep these tips in mind and your learners will soon be ready for the open road.