Chapter 6: Writing Performance Objectives

If you have taken a workshop on training, chances are this is where you started. Often workshops jump in immediately with learning objectives without doing the initial phases of the design process.

“Perhaps the best-known part of the instructional design model is the writing of performance objectives, or, as they are often called, behavioral objectives” (p.117)

Note the term behavioral – as the focus on learning objectives is creating objectives that are observable – which aligns with behaviorist learning theory.

“Although instructors could master the mechanics of writing an objective, there was no conceptual base for guiding the derivation of objectives. As a result, many teachers reverted to the tables of contents in textbooks to identify topics for which they would write behavioral objectives.” (p.117)

“what to do with the objectives after they were written. Many instructors were simply told to incorporate objectives into their instruction to become better teachers. In reality, most objectives were written and then placed in desk drawers, never to affect the instructional process.” (p.117-118)

“Summary analyses of the research findings indicate a slight but significant advantage for students who are informed of the objectives for their instruction.” (p.118)
Learning objectives act as an “advanced organizer” helping learners know what is coming next and knowing what to focus on.

“Objectives are critical to the design of instruction, regardless of whether they are presented to learners during instruction.” (p.118)

“Knowledge of intended outcomes aids students in linking new knowledge and skills to their current knowledge and experiences.” (p.118)

“many educators acknowledge that writing objectives in areas such as humanities or interpersonal relations is more difficult than in other disciplines.”(p.118)

“the development of objectives supports these instructors by taking them through the following tasks: (1) specifying the skills, knowledge, and attitudes they will teach; (2) determining the strategy for instruction; and (3) establishing criteria for evaluating student performance when instruction ends” (p.118)

“In summary, the goal is a statement of what students will be able to do in the performance context that you described in Chapter Five. The goal is rephrased as a terminal objective describing what students will be able to do in the learning context, and subordinate objectives describe the building-block skills that students must master on their way to achieving the terminal objective.” (p.119)

“The first part describes the skill identified in the instructional analysis, describing what the learner will be able to do.” (p.120)

“This component contains both the action and the content or concept.” (p.120)

“The second part of an objective describes the prevailing conditions while a learner carries out the task.” (p.120)

“The third part of an objective describes the criteria to be used to evaluate learner performance. The criterion is often stated in terms of the limits, or range, of acceptable answers or responses, indicating the tolerance limits for the response.” (p.120)

“Sometimes an objective may not convey any real information, even though it may meet the formatting criteria for being an objective.” (p.121)

“It has been stated that objectives are derived directly from the instructional analysis; thus, they must express precisely the types of behavior already identified in the analysis.” (p.121)

“Sometimes, however, the designer may find that subskill statements are too vague to write a matching objective. In this circumstance, the designer should consider the verbs that may be used to describe behavior carefully.” (p.121)

“The instructor must review each objective and ask, ‘Could I observe a learner doing this?'” (p.121)
I usually ask the question, how will you know that your learner has succeeded?

“Objectives that relate to psychomotor skills usually are easily expressed in terms of a behavior (e.g., running, jumping, driving). When objectives involve attitudes, the learner is usually expected to choose a particular alternative or sets of alternatives.” (p.122)

“Conditions refers to the exact set of circumstances and resources that will be available to the learner when the objective is performed.” (p.122)
Objectives also help student focus their studies. If there are exams involved, they should align with the objectives. We’ll talk more about that in the learner assessment module.

“The second purpose for including conditions in an objective is to specify any resource materials that are needed to perform a given task.” (p.123)

“The third purpose for conditions is to control the complexity of a task in order to tailor it to the abilities and experiences of the target population.” (p.123)

“The fourth purpose for conditions is aiding the transfer of knowledge and skill from the instructional setting to the performance setting.” (p.123)

“The final part of the objective is the criterion for judging acceptable performance of the skill.” (p.124)

“The important point is that the criterion in the objective describes what behavior is acceptable, or the limits within which a behavior must fall.” (p. 124)

“To make objectives and subsequent instruction consistent with the context analysis, designers should review the goal statement before writing objectives.” (p.125)

“The second step is to write a terminal objective. For every unit of instruction that has a goal, there is a terminal objective. The terminal objective has all three parts of a performance objective, and its conditions reflect the context available in the learning environment. In other words, the goal statement describes the context in which the learner will ultimately use the new skills, whereas the terminal objective describes the conditions for performing the goal at the end of the instruction.” (p.125)

“After the terminal objective has been established, the designer writes objectives for the skills and subskills included in the instructional analysis. The next step is to write objectives for the subordinate skills on the instructional analysis chart, including intellectual skills, verbal information, and, in some cases, psychomotor skills and attitudes.” (p.126)

“The steps in writing objectives are as follows:

  1. Edit goal to reflect eventual performance context.
  2. Write terminal objective to reflect context of learning environment.
  3. Write objectives for each step in goal analysis for which there are no substeps shown.
  4. Write an objective for each grouping of substeps under a major step of the goal analysis, or write objectives for each substep.
  5. Write objectives for all subordinate skills.
  6. Write objectives for entry skills if some students are likely not to possess them.” (p.126)

“Construct a test item to be used to measure the learners’ accomplishment of the task, and if you cannot produce a logical item yourself, then the objective should be reconsidered. Another way to evaluate the clarity of an objective is to ask a colleague to construct a test item congruent with the behavior and conditions specified. If the item produced does not resemble closely the one you have in mind, then the objective is not clear enough to communicate your intentions.” (p.127)

“Do not be reluctant to use two or even three sentences to describe your objective adequately.” (p.126)

“Objectives do not specify how a behavior will be learned.” (p.126)

“The best advice at this point is to write objectives in a meaningful way, and then move on to the next step in the instructional design process.” (p.127)


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Foundations of Instructional Design by Rebecca J. Hogue is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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