Learning objectives have been around in instructional design for as long as instructional design has existed. They’re also used the same way whether designing instruction for K-12, higher education, or a company.
It may have been a decent place to start decades ago, but in the ever-changing world of workplace training, learning objectives may not be serving us well. It may be time to reevaluate what strategies are effective for modern employees and organizations.
I know the traditional idea of using learning objectives has been questioned for a long time and I’m ready to do the same. The realization is that learning is only important as far as it goes to benefit the employee or the workplace. That means performance is typically seen as more valuable.
But what are the advantages and disadvantages of each approach? That’s part of what we’ll unpack here In this post. I’ll touch on whether learning objectives should still be used in workplace training, or if we should have our eye toward performance objects.
To truly understand why learning objectives are fine for some learning but no longer ideal for workplace training, it’s important to understand the difference between the two approaches. Learning objectives focus on teaching employees knowledge and skills in a given area, whereas performance objectives target specific competencies and tangible results.
Companies need and want tangible results in the workplace and for employees to be able to perform accordingly. Performance objectives target measurable outcomes, such as the quantity of output produced, the quality of the product, and the amount of time spent on tasks.
These objectives also provide guidance and feedback on the progress made by individual employees, enabling employers to recognize strong areas of performance and areas for improvement. It is this combination of qualitatively and quantitatively measuring results that makes performance objectives the preferred choice for workplace training.
Performance objectives offer a plethora of advantages and are more suitable for the modern workplace. But before we get into all the benefits and wonders of changing our mindset and training design to performance, let’s take a look deeper into learning objectives.
All About Learning Objectives
Learning objectives for training have long been a staple in workplace training programs and they’re taught in every instructional design course across the world. They’ve also been around for even longer since they were popularized by Robert F. Mager. They provide a clear outline of what employees are expected to learn and achieve through the training. However, as the workplace landscape continues to evolve, it is important to question whether learning objectives are still relevant.
One of the biggest issues could be a misinterpretation of what learning objectives were intended for. Their original intention could have been not only learning but also achievements. Unfortunately, anything besides learning is forgotten given that the name focuses on learning.
Learning objectives were first introduced as a way to guide instructional design and ensure that training programs were aligned with specific goals. They outline the knowledge and skills that employees should acquire during the training process. While this approach has its merits, it also has its drawbacks.
Where Did Learning Objectives Come From And Are They Relevant To The Workplace?
The concept I’m sure has been around for some time but as mentioned above, Robert F. Mager popularized learning objects as it’s currently taught for instructional system design. It was believed that clearly defined objectives would enhance learning outcomes by providing a roadmap for both those learning and teaching.
In the workplace context, learning objectives have been widely adopted as a means to guide creating training, employees while taking it, as well as measuring the effectiveness of training. However, their relevance in today’s fast-paced and dynamic work environment is questionable.
The Benefits of Learning Objectives
Learning objectives for training do offer some benefits when used appropriately as long as the focus isn’t passive. They provide structure and direction for both trainers and employees, ensuring that everyone is on the same page regarding what needs to be achieved.
They’re quite good for soft skills where the goal may be simply to learn something to improve another process rather than doing something different or learning how to do something. Not every type of training is about learning how to do.
Learning objectives can help employees stay motivated by giving them a sense of purpose and progress. They know right from the start what a course or session will be about so they know what training will be about and what to focus on. When they know what they are working towards, they are more likely to engage actively in the learning process.
It kind of primes them for knowing what to focus on.
The Drawbacks of Learning Objectives
Despite their advantages, learning objectives also have several drawbacks that make them less suitable for modern workplace training. When learning objectives are declared in training it seems employees might tune out any additional information since their focus is only on the learning objectives being important.
Personally, I don’t see that as a drawback since much training simply has too much information in it anyway. If the instructional designer didn’t do their job to cut the fat then the learning objectives will allow employees to ignore the stuff the instructional designer should have cut.
Another major drawback is their focus on knowledge acquisition rather than practical application. While originally intended for application also, their focus tends to be on knowledge and understanding rather than performing and doing.
Learning objectives often prioritize theoretical understanding over real-world skills and competencies. This can lead to a gap between what employees learn in training and what they need to perform their jobs effectively.
Or worse, they have to make that connection themselves which means a more difficult process of learning and connecting. Do you think employees are going to bother with that?
Another drawback is that learning objectives tend to be rigid and inflexible. Just as with the rest of the instructional design process, any type of objective shouldn’t be written in stone.
Why Learning Objectives Don’t Fit Into The Workplace
It’s difficult to see the benefits of training when it’s abstract and only about learning. How are you supposed to apply what you learned? Nobody knows when learning is the objective and it’s vaguely applicable to the work being done.
In today’s fast-paced work environment, organizations need meaningful training approaches. Learning objectives don’t align with this need for meaning and application to what needs to be done on the job.
The focus of learning objectives is on individual learning rather than performance in the organization. Performance objectives, which emphasize measurable outcomes and results, are better suited for promoting collaboration and achieving organizational goals.
What’s The Best Alternative To Learning Objectives
Performance objectives, hands down. That’s the best alternative to learning objectives. The workplace is all about performance and doing your job better.
What do you need to perform to do your job better?
In some cases learning objectives might be useful but only if it adds up to increase performance. Performance objectives ultimately promote ownership and a higher level of engagement among employees, helping organizations create an innovative and productive work environment.
Performance objectives guide the creation of training with a focus on what employees should be able to do at the end of training. This is more valuable than what they should know.
It’s evident that learning objectives are no longer the right term for workplace training for the most part. It’s time to shift our focus to performance objectives instead. With clear goals and objectives, employers can better measure employee performance and optimize their workforce.
So, the answer is clear: it is time to move away from learning objectives and embrace performance objectives for most workplace training.
Performance objectives define the desired outcomes and behaviors that employees should demonstrate in their roles. The content in training can be more impactful when they’re focused on affecting employee performance.
Performance objectives provide a clear link between training programs and business goals. They help employees understand how their learning directly contributes to their job performance and the overall success of the organization.
Considering the Different Training Needs
It is important to note that different organizations have varying training needs. While some may still find value in using learning objectives in some or all of their training programs, others may benefit more from performance-based approaches.
For some soft skills training it may be more difficult to tie all objectives to performance. The shift isn’t meant to be rigid and unchanging. It’s meant to focus on performance first and learning and how that ties to job performance second.
The decision between learning objectives and performance objectives should be based on careful consideration of organizational goals, employee needs, and the specific topic to be trained.
Deciding What Is Right For Your Workplace
To determine the most suitable approach for workplace training, organizations should assess their unique requirements and consider the advantages and disadvantages of both learning objectives and performance objectives.
While it might not be a workplace issue but rather an issue of what’s being trained, there should be some overall guidance. Not all training needs a tangible performance change that’s easy to measure or even define. Learning to communicate better is an example of something that could be a challenge. It’s not necessarily a performance issue but rather being aware of different challenges of communication and how to overcome those.
By aligning training objectives with organizational goals and focusing on performance outcomes, organizations can ensure that their training efforts are effective and impactful but ultimately the organization must determine what works for them on any given training program.
While learning objectives have been around for a long time, there’s no reason they need to continue to be the focus of guiding instructional design or training. In today’s dynamic work environment, they may no longer be the most effective approach.
Performance objectives offer a more flexible and results-oriented alternative for companies looking to tie employee performance to business goals. By shifting the focus from knowledge acquisition to practical application and measurable outcomes, organizations can better equip their employees to succeed in their roles.
It may simply be a better path to professional development.
Ultimately, the decision to use learning objectives or performance objectives should be based on careful consideration of project and organizational needs and goals. It’s time to be more aware of alternatives and how learning objectives could be holding employees back.
Let’s all reevaluate traditional approaches to workplace training and embrace strategies that align with the demands of the modern workforce. Our focus is typically on performance objectives since we focus on corporate IT training. This by nature has tangible performance goals that can be written to guide training.
Let’s change your organization’s focus on training with instructional design consulting that will help your organization’s training focus more on performance rather than the vagueness of learning. Or, just schedule a free consultation and we can discuss what your company’s goals are and how we can help you shift the way your organization approaches staff development.