Formulating learning objectives, i.e. educational directions, is an essential element of any strategy to raise qualifications in an organization. It allows companies to clearly define the training needs of their employees, select appropriate teaching methods and tools, and, finally, plan how to consolidate the provided knowledge. How to specify learning objectives to achieve the intended results? What to remember and what mistakes to avoid when formulating educational objectives?

This article will explain the following:

  • What are educational objectives and what is their function?
  • How to properly formulate learning objectives in the organization?
  • What are the best adult learning practices to keep in mind?

What are Learning Objectives?

Generally speaking, an objective is a planned result of a specific action. The purpose of education, however, is defined as specific skills or knowledge to be obtained after performing a particular activity, e.g. after completing an e-learning course, participating in stationary training, or reading training documents or materials.

Why do we need clearly defined learning objectives?

Correctly formulated goals bring a number of benefits – both from the point of view of the learner who intends to achieve a given goal, and the organization planning to obtain tangible benefits from investing in the development of employee competencies.

Having a clearly defined objective whose implementation will be divided into stages makes it easier to monitor progress and to take appropriate remedial steps when any problems or obstacles emerge. The objective is a clear indication for learners and allows them to focus on what is essential and required by the company.

Furthermore, learning objectives help to assess the current and the desired level of knowledge. Additionally, they facilitate progress assessment and encourage a greater commitment to the task.

Knowing what competencies or skills the employer requires, it is easier to become motivated and focus on those particular issues. The implementation of educational objectives in an organization is usually subject to a more or less precise evaluation, which is another reason why these goals should be formulated as precisely as possible. The employee has to know and understand what the expectations are.

How to formulate learning objectives?

While the functions and importance of learning objectives are rather obvious, the same cannot be said for their formulation. Contrary to appearances, it is not as easy as it may seem. When sending an employee on any training course, it is crucial to make it clear whether the goal is merely to memorize all the information provided or to understand it well. Practical application of the acquired knowledge may be essential, both in typical situations and in critical ones. Without a properly defined educational objective, it will be arduous to determine whether the task has been accomplished or not.

In order to avoid this type of situation, it is worth ensuring that learning objectives are defined in accordance with the SMART method. In direct translation, the word means clever, but what is hidden under the individual letters of the acronym is much more important:

S – the teaching objective should be as specific as possible. When it is defined clearly, the student or employee has no doubts what they are going to learn and what knowledge or skills they should possess after course completion.

M – the learning objective should be measurable. From the corporate point of view, employee competency development is an investment with an expected rate of return. In order to be able to verify that the goal has been achieved and the money invested reasonably, learning objectives should be defined in such a way that it is possible to monitor progress or objectively verify task completion. For example, if the goal is for an employee to acquire specific knowledge or skills, the achievement of the goal can be measured by means of a test or a practical exam.

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A – the learning goal should be achievable. Setting overly ambitious and unrealistic goals will have undesirable effects. It will not motivate staff to raise qualifications, but will instead lower morale and undermine faith in individual abilities. It is crucial to properly assess the team’s needs and match the learning objective to the resources at hand. Such an approach applies not only to the skills and competencies that the team currently has but also to time availability, system infrastructure, and financial capabilities. Employees cannot be expected to improve their productivity if they have outdated hardware or inadequate software.

R – the learning objective should be relevant. Raising team qualifications is a costly process, so it is worth making sure that development opportunities will be interesting from an employee perspective and, at the same time, will help the business grow. An effective way to do this is by defining learning objectives with the staff. Participating in defining learning objectives will undoubtedly translate into a high level of commitment and thus increase the probability of achieving individual goals.

T – the learning objective should be time-based. A schedule is an indispensable element of any project. It allows organizations to keep it in check, monitor the progress, and react in advance in case of the risk of failure. When defining learning objectives, a clear time horizon should be arranged. However, it is important to adopt a realistic schedule tailored to the capabilities and availability of the team.

Sample learning objectives

When starting to formulate learning objectives, it is worthwhile to conduct a thorough assessment of the needs indicated by the organization. Consequently, it will be possible to meet one of the most important points described in the SMART method, which indicates that learning goals should be relevant, and thus valuable. Once this stage is over, three basic questions need to be answered:

  • What do we want to achieve?
  • How are we going to do this?
  • How will we measure the achievement of the goal?

With the answers to the above questions, we should have no problem defining effective learning objectives.

Below are some examples that can be used as inspiration:

  1. After completing program training X, the employee will be able to reduce customer service time by 20%.
  2. The course equips the employee with basic knowledge of solving the most common IT problems, which results in a reduction of reported incidents by 20% per month.
  3. After four weeks of training, the employee will have advanced knowledge of MS Excel pivot tables and will be able to apply them in daily work, which will result in a time saving of 10%.
  4. After completing the 6-month language course, the employee will be able to communicate freely with the team, which will be verified by a final exam.
  5. Participation in the workshops will allow employees to understand the principles of Six Sigma and equip them with the competencies necessary to implement them.