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  • Rikki Lee

Get 'SMART' with Learning Objectives

One of the first steps when designing a new course is to develop learning objectives. These objectives pinpoint the knowledge and skills that learners must demonstrate after completing the course. Objectives also serve as a road map to help guide you as you build the curriculum, whether classroom-based or online training.

Think about it this way: Whenever we plan an activity, we usually have an objective in mind, even if it's not written down somewhere: an action, a measurement and a timeframe. Take for example, “I’ll revise the Benefits section of the employee manual before noon today.” Breaking it down into its elements, we have: “I’ll revise” (specific action), “the Benefits section of the employee manual” (measurement), and “before noon today” (timeframe).

Simple enough, but effective learning objectives require a few additional elements. You might consider developing your objectives using the "SMART" method; that is, specific actions, measurable (or observable) results, attainable or achievable (given a certain timeframe, resources and effort), relevant (or applicable to the job function) and time-bound (by a certain date).

For example, if you’re training the billing department staff, an objective might be: “Reduce by 10% the number of data entry errors by the end of the month.” Breaking it down: “Reduce” (specific action), “by 10%” (measurable and attainable), “the number of data entry errors” (relevant), “by the end of the month” (time-bound). To determine whether learners have actually reached this objective, you’ll need to record their performance after training.

The SMART method is easy to remember and produces excellent objectives, whether you’re training for the demonstration of knowledge or the performance of skills. You can make the objective-writing process go even smoother by creating a "SMART table," with key words, phrases and measurements that you commonly use in your department, company or industry. Select one element from each column and re-arrange the elements to form a clear objective. Then fill in the exact measurements and time elements. Also leave some spaces blank in your table to enter additional keywords as needed. One example is shown here:

A few final tips:

  • Let others read your objectives before you begin incorporating them into the course curriculum.

  • When you must make a change in or an addition to the curriculum, be sure to revise or add to the objectives as soon as possible.

  • Double-check that all your objectives are covered adequately in the curriculum and the assessment; that way, you’ll reach your ultimate “objective” of training.

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