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Where Are We Going? Determining Course Objectives

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
  • Conditions
  • Criterion

 

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.

Businessman Using Digital Tablet

What You Need to Know About Using Avatars in eLearning

Sandy Avatar

 

 

 

 

This is an avatar that I have created, named Sandy. She is here to tell you some important information about using avatars in eLearning. Avatars are great for making a dense, content-heavy course more interactive and engaging for learners.

 

 

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Use Avatars as Guides: An avatar usually speaks directly to learner, and can act as a helpful guide or instructor throughout the course. You can use an avatar to introduce a topic, offer tips throughout the course, ask quiz questions, and provide feedback.

 

  • Use Avatar Actors: Don’t think you’re stuck with one avatar. You can create multiple avatars for a course and use them to illustrate various scenarios. Also consider using avatars to reinforce key ideas with speech bubbles that reflect the audio. By visually reinforcing the content, you increase the likelihood the learner will retain the information.

 

  • Consider Your Audience: In order to appeal and engage your learners, your avatar should reflect your target audience. For example, an avatar for a corporate training course should look and sound different from an avatar for a 1st grade reading course. In both cases, you want your avatar to be appealing and credible.

 

Keep the avatar’s dialogue conversational to engage the learner. However, because your avatar is a virtual instructor, make sure you avoid slang or inappropriate humor that would undermine your avatar’s credibility.

 

  • Don’t Distract: There’s a line between engaging and distracting. Avoid having your avatar move around the screen excessively, or pop up at inopportune moments. An avatar shouldn’t be distracting or annoying to the learner. Above all, don’t make your avatar the star at the expense of content. The main focus of the course should be the material; the avatar is merely a tool to convey the information.

How do you use avatars in your eLearning?

How to Dig in the SME Goldmine: Working with a Subject Matter Expert

 

Speaker giving talk on podium at Business Conference. Business and Entrepreneurship. Expert presenting his work in lectures hall.

This is Dr. SME, the Subject Matter Expert for your course. He has a 900 slide Powerpoint on atom splitting that he’s very attached to. It’s his life’s work, actually. You’re going to use it as basis for your course. If you cut anything out, you’ll be sorry. So, so sorry.

Wait! Don’t run away.

A Subject Matter Expert like Dr. SME can be a goldmine of useful information and resources for your course. But like in all mining operations, you’ve got to have a plan. You have to deliver a course that meets the learners’ needs. Dr. SME can help you do that, but only if you partner with him. Here’s how to foster a good relationship with an SME so you can strike gold.

 

Respect– All good relationships start with respect. Respect an SME’s knowledge and involve them from the beginning of the project. You should meet with an SME early on to discuss the course. Stay on their good side. Don’t show off your knowledge of educational theory, technical wizardry, or use too much Instructional Design jargon. Your goal at this meeting is to show how your training will add value and help the learner. Getting an SME to like you and care about your project will make everything that follows much easier.

As the project continues, make the SME feel like a valued team member. This is especially important if the SME was assigned to your project rather than volunteered for it. If the SME hasn’t chosen to be part of your project he will be less vested in its success than an SME who wants to be actively involved. You can motivate less-than-eager SMEs by making them feel their contributions are valued. Send a glowing email to your SME’s supervisor. Frequently express your sincere appreciation for your SME’s input.

 

Communication– Regular communication with the SME will keep the project running smoothly. Check in with the SME periodically to keep him involved.

It’s helpful if you and the SME exchange a dictionary of regularly used acronyms or field-specific expressions. You’ll appreciate this if the SME’s subject area is highly technical. The SME will also appreciate knowing the meanings of common Instructional Design buzzwords. It’ll make communication much easier if you both have agreed upon definitions for your field-specific lingo.

 

Collaboration– Work with an SME to determine the course’s goals and structure. Remember Dr. SME’s 900 slide Powerpoint? Like many SMEs, Dr. SME has worked hard on the material and is proud of it. But a since an interactive, learner-centric course can’t include every detail of Dr. SME’s material, help Dr. SME divide the information into three categories: “Vital to Know,” “Good to Know,” and “Nice to Know.”

This allows you to focus your course around key information and will prevent the course from getting bogged down. If your SME won’t let go of the “Nice to Know” information, you can add a separate Resources section, which prevents hurt feelings and keeps your course streamlined.

Lastly, get your SMEs’ input when designing activities for your course. Explain that you need activities beyond quizzes and fact-checking to assess learner understanding. You can draw on your SME’s wealth of experience by asking questions such as:

What kinds of mistakes do new people make?

What kinds of mistakes do people make when they’re careless or overconfident?

If someone doesn’t know this information what could potentially go wrong?

These sorts of questions will help focus your SME on the “Vital to Know” information, and give you excellent ideas for scenarios and activities.

 

Dealing with SMEs can be tricky. You don’t want your project to turn into a cave-in or landslide. Alienate an SME and you’ve lost one of your best partners on this expedition. Keep your SME at one side and your best instructional design practices at the other, and your course will strike gold.

Online Training or Face-to-Face Training: Which is Better?

Bing. You just got a message in your inbox. Your client needs you to design a course. It’s up to you how to present the material. Should the course be presented online or face-to-face (F2F)?

Google around and you’ll see there’s hot debate about whether online or F2F learning is more effective. While there are certainly pros and cons for each, it’s best to look at the audience, material, and intended outcome to determine whether online or F2F learning will best benefit your learners.

Digital Online Training Mentoring Learning Education Browsing Co

Favorable Factors for Online Learning

Large Audience– Online training is the most cost-effective way to reach a large, geographically dispersed audience, such as the employees of a multi-office corporation. Presenting the course F2F means paying for preparation, multiple instructors, travel expenses, accommodations, etc. For an extremely large audience, the cost per head expenses favor online learning.

Consistent Message– If you want to spread a consistent message through all levels of an organization, online learning is the way to go. Instructors vary, and even a course taught by the same instructor can vary depending on the audience. If you’re trying to establish consistent baseline awareness of policies, procedures, or values throughout an organization, online learning trumps F2F. In addition, it’s easier to monitor individual understanding with online learning. You can see who has completed required trainings and spot any knowledge gaps, ensuring consistent understanding at all levels.

Changing Material– Say the course you’re designing involves a rapidly changing field. If the information in the course frequently needs updating, you’re better off using online learning. It’s time-consuming and expensive to constantly retrain instructors and supply them with updated materials. With online learning you can easily change the material from one central point.

Face-to-face training

Favorable Factors for Face-to-Face Learning

Specialized Audience/Instructor – Courses directed at an expert audience such as specialists or senior managers are best taught F2F. An audience with a high degree of prior knowledge may want to focus on a particular subject. An F2F format easily allows the instructor to tailor the course to the audience’s interests. Additionally, courses taught by specialists should be presented F2F. If the CFO of a major corporation is leading the course, the participants will want to see and meet him/her in person.

Specialized or Confidential Material– Courses with hands-on components need to be taught F2F. True, a chemistry student could watch a video of chemical reaction, but that’s a poor substitute for actual lab experience.

If your training is highly dependent on monitoring social cues and body language, such as a counseling or conflict management course, you should present it F2F. Make sure you give learners the opportunity to apply their new knowledge in classroom activities. Kinesthetic learners will especially appreciate these sorts of exercises, but all learners will benefit from an opportunity to apply what they’re learning through role-playing, discussions, and F2F interactions.

In addition, if the course involves instructor-student confidentiality, it’s best to present it F2F. For example, in a conflict management course, learners may want to ask the instructor’s advice for how to handle a difficult employee or co-worker. In an instructor-led online course, learners can post questions or email the instructor directly, but most people would avoid putting confidential questions into writing. In a F2F situation, the learner can approach the instructor privately.

Networking– While synchronous learning offers learners opportunities to work together on online, you can’t beat F2F courses for networking. Courses that involve bringing people together from different companies or departments to collaborate should be taught F2F to give learners valuable opportunities to pool resources, network, and generally schmooze.

 

To wrap up, online courses are the most cost-effective way of disseminating a consistent message to a broad audience with a limited budget, while F2F courses are best suited to networking, and specialized audiences, instructors, and material. Take a hard look at the audience, material, and intended outcome to decide which method will best serve your learners.