Learning Objectives? I object!

That's right. I object!

Over the years, I have spent a lot of time crafting them, chiseling them so they fit, viewing lists of verbs to ensure each LO began with the proper verb, reworking other people's, and getting irritated when learning professionals commit the cardinal sin of starting their LOs off with the words "learn" or "understand". (audible gasp) What madness is this?

I have diligently written learning objective (LO) statements at the front of every set of training documentation I've written, on one of the first few .ppt sides in the decks, woven them into CBT modules, and on flip charts when facilitating live. I would just as diligently use the learning objective statements when crafting or contributing to evaluation plans. And hated doing it all.

One day, I had an epiphany. What real good do these things do? What person in a leadership role somewhere decided that these things we call learning objectives justifies the existence of  training departments, the budget for them and we "trainers"? More importantly, that their existence proves that peopled learned what they were told to learn, as stated in the LO statements?  Being the rebel that I am, I started leaving LOs out of slide decks and off from agendas. Guess what? No one commented. Not sure they even noticed.

Let's get real, just because these static statements appear at the front of content doesn't mean that is what those who are engaged with the content will learn. (the "learners, participants, etc.") What we call learning objectives are not "one size fits all"--or even most. If we've done our job well when conducting a thorough needs analysis, interviewing subject matter experts, synthesizing the information and crafting the information into what the "learners" need most to know to perform better on the job, then the job is done. Complete. Fini.

If your content and curriculum is designed and provided to address performance on the job, then what is to be different post-training has a place in performance planning documents and discussions. Not as a slide or items to be checked off while completing the content. Picture every participant of a "click Next" elearning module thinking, "Yippee! Three learning objectives checked off. Done."  Perfect. No wonder we're not taken seriously.

Here's the thing. Having a plan for what the learning intervention is and is to be is absolutely a good idea. When that plan aligns with corporate goals and strategy is something I've been talking about, writing about, and striving for for more years than I'm going to write here. But too often, these LOs, these things that people complete as a mandatory element to "good" training design don't even come close to doing that.

I know what you're thinking. But what about (so-called) compliance training? And, how will I provide completion data to leadership? While I have much to say about how ineffective so-called compliance training is, I won't do so in this blog post. My response to those questions, and others like them is, nothing changes.Your involvement in making recommendations for the post-completion evaluation plan isn't different. Performance planning documents and discussions with whatever metrics leadership requires don't go away. I'm proposing that everyone in our profession get better at living in a world where the language of performance and outcomes is what we do and spend time on. NOT crafting those silly 3-5 learning objectives at the outset of any training documentation.