5 What is your goal?

One expression you often here in Instructional Design is “begin with the end in mind”. The idea here is, that we need to figure out first what we want to achieve with instruction before we can design a good learning experience. But where do instructional goals come from? and how do we best express them? That is what we are going to look at in this chapter.

No matter what we do in instructional design, we start with defining what our goal is. What is it we are trying to achieve? Identifying and clearly articulating the goal for needs analysis, for instruction or for program evaluation will help you design something that meets the needs. If you don’t clearly articulate your goal, you will not know when you have achieved it.

Identifying Instructional Goals

After completing a needs analysis, and identifying the instruction is the right solution to the problem, it is time to identify and write your instructional goal.

Writing Instructional Goals

Instructional goals should be clear, concise, and observable.

Instructional goals are written from the perspective of the performance environment.

A typical confusion is between instructional goals and learning objectives.  Instructional goals are written from the perspective of the performance environment, where learning objectives are written for the classroom environment.

What is meant by observable?

This requirement stems from behaviourist learning theory, where learning was considered something that you can measure. If you can observe it and measure it, it is observable. Often, beginner instructional designers use terms like understand and appreciate;  however, you can not observe understanding or appreciation.

In addition, the terms understand and appreciate are not precise. They don’t help the instructional designer figure out how to create a learning plan. It is ok to start with the word understand, but then you need to ask what does it mean to understand/appreciate? How will know that the learner understands/appreciates? The answers to these questions are often something you can use as an instructional goal.

Using Bloom’s Taxonomy

Bloom’s Taxonomy is a list of observable verbs that are organized in a hierarchical manner. There are many different Bloom’s verbs lists, such that you can easily Google “Bloom’s verbs” when you are looking for a verb to write an instructional goal or learning objective using language that is observable.

I like newer versions of the Bloom’s taxonomy with “create” at the top. You will find this taxonomy particularly useful later in the course when you are creating learning objectives. For now, the taxonomy is useful in finding verbs to describe what you want learners to do in the performance context.

Generally in writing instructional goals we are looking at the higher level of blooms. Look for verbs in the applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating areas. Avoid remembering and understanding as those are typically verbs used in the learning context not the performance context.

Blooms rose

Bloom’s Taxonomy Verbs

A recipe for writing instructional goals

“A complete goal statement should describe the following:

  • The learners
  • What learners will be able to do in the performance context
  • The performance context in which the skills will be applied
  • The tools that will be available to the learners in the performance context” (Dick, Carey, & Carey, 2014, p.27)

Tip: Use the phrase “need to be able to” when writing out your instructional goal. This helps avoid writing learning objectives.

For example:

Instructional designers

Need to be able to write observable instructional goals

At their home office

With pencil and paper

Validating Your Instructional Goal

“Any selection of instructional goals must be done in terms of the following three concerns:

  1. Will the development of this instruction solve the problem that led to the need for it?
  2. Are these goals acceptable to those who must approve this instructional development effort?
  3. Are there sufficient resources to complete the development of instruction for this goal?” (Dick, Carey, & Carey, 2014, p.27)

The three questions above help to validate that your instructional goals make sense. You can follow the recipe and write a perfectly formatted instructional goal, but if it doesn’t solve the problem, won’t get approval, or is too expensive to implement, the goal is not useful. These are questions that only make sense if you understand the performance environment. They are questions you should consider when doing a training needs analysis.


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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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