Performance Objectives vs. Learning Objectives

Have you ever seen a learning objective like the following for a training program: “By the end of this program, you will understand . . .”

We see them all the time. The problem with this type of learning objective is that it lacks action. The verb “understand” is not action-oriented. The goal of effective learning should be to develop specific skills, knowledge, or behaviors that translate into action. One can understand something but not necessarily be able to do anything with that knowledge.

A more effective type of learning objective is a performance objective, which places the focus of the learning on what learners will be able to do with the learning. It makes learning more action-oriented and meaningful. While this may not sound like a big issue, it actually can change the instructional design and delivery of training significantly.

Benjamin Bloom, a researcher in the field of learning, explored how to make learning objectives have more impact. Researchers today build upon Bloom’s first publication, Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals, which includes his process for transforming learning objectives into performance objectives.

Bloom said that learning objectives should employ action-oriented verbs instead of non-action verbs like “understand.” This guides the program designer to develop the program in a manner that leads to applicable outcomes.

Take a look at this list of alternative action verbs based on Bloom’s Taxonomy, reproduced by Cornell University: Bloom’s Taxonomy Action Verbs.

As you design a learning objective, use one of these action verbs to complete the following sentence:

After completing this program, the learner will be able to . . .

Good performance objectives give the designer, the facilitator, and the learner the best possible chance of developing skills, knowledge, or behaviors that will drive results in the workplace.

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