Why Writing Learning Objectives Are Critical to Instructional Design

We all need objectives for our projects. Learning objectives are basically the essence of your course’s goal, as they describe what you want your learners to achieve after completing it.

Therefore, when the learning objectives for learning projects are unclear — or worse, generic — so is the purpose of your online course. Your learners will be less engaged and frustrated, and the learning will prove ineffective. 

There are 2 fundamental reasons why writing learning objectives are critical to your instructional design:


Developing a course would be much more difficult without knowing what your or your learners’ objectives will be. Writing learning objectives will help you structure the learning, and knowing exactly what you want your learners to achieve helps you organize the material in a proper way so learning becomes as effortless as possible.

Do not dismiss ‘lower level’ objectives as unnecessary. For example, in Bloom’s Taxonomy, the two first objectives in the hierarchy are simply remembering and understanding the information presented:

  1. Knowledge.
    Learners must be able to recall or remember the information.
  2. Comprehension.
    Learners must be able to understand the information.
  3. Application.
    Learners must be able to use the information they have learned at the same or different contexts.
  4. Analysis.
    Learners must be able to analyze the information, by identifying its different components.
  5. Synthesis.
    Learners must be able to create something new using different chunks of the information they have already mastered.
  6. Evaluation.
    Learners must be able to present opinions, justify decisions, and make judgments about the information presented, based on previously acquired knowledge.

While all organizations would clearly want employees with the Evaluation level command of subject matter, learning objectives can start much lower on the hierarchy.

Distinguish between objectives and goals

There is a difference between a learning objective and a learning goal. To those outside of the learning and development organization, an objective and a goal may seem to be the same thing. However, a learning goal describes in broad terms what the learners will be able to do upon completion of the course, whereas a learning objective describes, in specific and measurable terms, specific elements that learners will have mastered upon completion of the online course.

It’s important to zero in on ‘specific’ and ‘measurable’: Goals are broad, as they help you focus on the big picture, though learning objectives should be much more specific. Goals give you directions to write your learning objectives, but you should never confuse these two.

Previously in this blog, we’ve discussed the importance of mapping goals to productivity and even profitability, but creating goals, no matter how specific or seemingly inconsequential, are still important in the instructional design process.

To ensure you’re on the right track as you are writing your learning objectives, make sure you also incorporate the following:

1. Align assessments and tests to your learners’ goals.

Writing and administering assessments to measure how your learners are learning are crucial to overall project success. You want to be sure that learners meet their objectives, and effective assessments are one of the most important methods to demonstrate this. 

2. Use the most specific and measurable verbs to describe the objectives….
Language is key, and the more specific you are with your objectives, the more defined the purpose of the course. Learners will be less confused and more likely to strive to meet these exact objectives.

3. …but keep the language simple and understandable.
On the other hand, know that your learners are not instructional designers and do not necessarily speak your language. Make sure that the objectives are written simply and straightforward enough that your learners fully understand what is expected of them. 

4. Ensure that the learning objectives are appropriate — and realistic — for your learners.
Know your audience. Objectives that may work for sales managers may not necessarily be appropriate for customer service representatives. Study the habits and existing knowledge of your learners to determine what the most attainable, realistic objectives might be, so as to ensure project success.
5. Do not overwhelm your learners — divide and conquer if necessary.
Sometimes when designing learning, you may discover that the content is simply too much for a single course. You may need to break up the learning into smaller modules, thereby necessitating additional objectives for additional courses. This is a relief for learners who may be easily overwhelmed. 

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Why Writing Learning Objectives Are Critical to Instructional Design