Creating Effective Objectives: Part 1

Effective Objectives are clearly outlined expected outcomes

I recently reviewed an article written by Michael Dalmaridis, Manager of Learning and Development at Meridian, that focused on, “The word you should never use in Learning Objectives……Understand!”

Effective objectives do not claim to know, understand or know. They are more specificMr. Dalmaridis, your colleagues here at Friesen, Kaye and Associates (FKA) have never agreed more. We have been in the Workplace Learning and Performance space for over 50 years and I don’t know how many times we have seen words like “understand” “know” and “learn” creep into learning objectives.

A critical success factor for every learning initiative is a clear understanding of the expected outcomes. Instructional designers use objectives to communicate these expected outcomes to course developers, to learners, to learners’ managers and, if the initiative is to be a facilitated program, to the instructors responsible for delivery. Well-written objectives help ensure the successful development and delivery of a learning program that meets the performance needs.

Why create effective objectives?

When determining exactly what content will be included in the learning program, instructional designers prepare the objectives. A set of these statements should give a clear picture of what we expect learners to be able to do by the end of the program.

Objectives are so critical to the design process that they are often a deliverable on their own. Getting agreement on these early in the process can reduce the risk that the instructional designers will get off track and the project sponsor will be surprised by, and possibly not accept, the final design.

What makes an  effective objective?

Are all objectives created equally? No, not really. Effective Objectives should communicate the intended outcome of the learning program. But let’s look at a sample objective, the kind you often see. Does it adequately describe an intended outcome?

Example 1:
“This course demonstrates how to access the bank’s online service”

This example certainly gives you an idea of what will be covered, implying that participants will learn how to access online services, but actually does not meet the criteria for an effective objective.

To be effective, an objective must be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Learner-centered

Learner-centered Objectives

Let’s look first at the final criteria for effective objectives–that they are learner-centered. A learner-centered objective states what the learner will be able to do, not what the instructor is planning to do (demonstrate) as in Example 1.

There is an easy way to make sure you keep your objectives learner-centered, just always start with a phrase like: “by the end of the program you will…” or: “Upon successful completion of the module the learner will….” Or: By the end of the lesson participants will….”

As stated earlier, effective objectives are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Learner-centered

The first two criteria are so closely linked, we will look at them together. For an objective to be specific, it must state exactly what the learner will do as identified by the verb.

Example 2:
“By the end of this course you will know how to access the bank’s online services.”

The verb used in this example is “know”, which is difficult to measure. A ”measurable” objective is one that allows an observer to reliably judge whether it has been met. In example 2, how can you measure whether or not a learner knows something?

If the intent of example 1 is that learners will be able to access the online services, then the objective should say so.

Example 3:
“By the end of this course you will be able to access the bank’s online services.”

If the intent of example 2 is that learners really only need to know how to access the online services, then the objective should identify what they will do so their knowledge can be assessed.

Example 4:
“By the end of this course you will be able to list the five steps to access the bank’s online services.”

Writing Effective Objectives

Writing effective objectives, when the outcome of the program is the performance of some skill(s,) is relatively simple. You need to select a performance-based verb that best describes what learners are expected to accomplish. Do learners need to build a bookshelf or just identify what instructions, tools and supplies are needed to build one?

Once again, Understand……Know…..Learn should not be part of the conversation.

Over the next few weeks, we will discuss the challenges of writing effective objectives for learning programs that may require an increased knowledge or mental ability. We will also be introducing you to some sample performance-based verbs that can stimulate your thought process when writing effective objective.

All programs in the FKA curriculum have been designed using effective performance, module and lesson objectives as the foundation. Visit for a complete listing of these programs.

Our design programs use a self-directed tutorial on Writing Objectives as a level-setting pre-requisite for our participants. Contact us at to find out more.

For those of you challenged with the task of aligning higher level processing questions to your course objectives, please review our program outline for Developing Effective Assessments.

FKA President
Michael Nolan