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Writing Successful Learning Objectives

Posted By Ewald Consulting, Thursday, September 26, 2019

Writing Successful Learning Objectives

Learning objectives are a best practice in training that, in their most basic form, are a statement of what learners should be able to accomplish by the end of a learning event. Additionally, they are a way for the presenter to clearly and transparently define the goals of the training. Creating no more than three to four specific learning objectives will allow the learner to self reflect throughout the learning event on his or her progress toward mastering the defined critical information.

In order to plan and implement an effective training program for professionals, it is important to understand and address the Principles of Adult Learning. Malcom Knowles’ research on the distinct characteristics of adult learners began in the 1950's and is the basis for the majority of adult learning theories. Adult learners have unique characteristics, as identified by Knowles, including that they are goal-oriented look for relevancy in their learning. Stating clear learning objectives for a training helps the learner identify the goals and desired outcomes of the training.


When constructing a learning objective, there are two distinct parts: the action verb and the performance standard. The action verb provides clear measures of mastery of demonstrable learning outcomes. Some examples of strong action verbs include: define, contrast, write, explain and evaluate. The action verb also reflects the rigor of the learning objective. Bloom’s Taxonomy, created in 1956 to encourage higher-level thinking, is an effective tool for trainers to ensure that they are creating rigorous learning objectives.


The bottom level of the taxonomy, known as the “knowledge” domain, represents low-level learning and includes action verbs including recall, define, recognize and list. As you move up the levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, the level of thinking required increases. Choosing action verbs in the different levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy will help classify the cognitive level of learning to both the presenter and the learner.

The second part of creating a learning objective is determining the performance standard. A performance standard is the measure by which learners will demonstrate mastery. There are three types of learning objectives: cognitive, psychomotor and effective. Cognitive learning objectives aim to increase the participants’ general understanding of concepts and processes. Psychomotor learning objectives seek to determine whether a learner can accurately complete a task or demonstrate a skill. Finally, an effective objective is designed to influence attitudes and outlooks. Identifying the type of learning objective will assist the presenter in choosing the appropriate performance standard, instructional strategies and assessment tool, if applicable.


A poor example of a learning objective is, “Participants will be exposed to information about new laws passed in 2016 that impact public accountants.” The verb “exposed” does not indicate any measurable action for the learner to demonstrate mastery of the learning objective.

A good example of a learning objective is, “By the end of this training, learners will be able to identify the changes in the updated resuscitation guidelines.” The action verb of this objective is “identify” and the performance is pinpointing the changes in the updated resuscitation guidelines. The time frame noted at the beginning of the objective tells the learner when this learning goal should be met.


Learning objectives should be used in all effective learning events. Constructing a learning objective that has both an action verb and a performance standard will help learners identify the key information as well as the goals of the training. Encouraging trainers to promote their learning objectives will result in participants who are prepared to engage with the desired outcomes of the training.

Tags:  learning objectives  professional development 

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