Have you heard these expressions? “If you don’t know where you’re going, the best maps won’t help you get there.” Or “Without a blueprint, it’s impossible to build the house of your dreams.” Similarly, without well-defined objectives, it’s impossible to tell if we accomplished anything in our training. Everything we design in training ties back to our objectives. An objective describes the end result—what an employee must do, back on the job. At Langevin, we like to focus on performance-based objectives, meaning something the learner performs i.e. an action that can be observed and measured. This also leads to performance-based results.
Performance-based objectives should include three components: a task statement, the conditions, and a standard.
A task statement indicates what task or skill the trainees should perform back on the job.
Conditions state what tools, equipment, or resources the participant needs to perform the task.
The standard describes how well the task must be performed (e.g. level of accuracy, quality, quantity, or time).
Let’s say you are designing a course for auto mechanics. One of your course modules focuses on the proper procedure to change a car tire. The performance-based objective might look like this:
Given a tire, lug wrench, and jack, each mechanic will change a tire according to the steps listed in the car owner’s manual.
In this objective, the phrase, “each mechanic will change a tire,” serves as the task statement. When writing the task statement, it should include an action verb plus a noun (e.g. change a tire). A task statement that’s written with this format indicates a performable action by the learner.
The phrase, “given a tire, lug wrench, and jack,” specifically states what tools and equipment the trainee will need to complete this task. These items are referred to as conditions or conditional items. It’s important to identify the conditions, so we can replicate them in our training environment.
Lastly, “according to the steps listed in the car owner’s manual” explicitly states the standard of performance. Each learner must change the tire per the steps listed in the owner’s manual (versus how their parent taught them when they were a teenager). The standard is incredibly important because it sets the expectation of how a task must be performed. A clear standard also serves as a term of reference in the case of poor performance. If the standard is clearly written in a document, you can simply refer to that document as the standard.
Once we have our objective, our goal is to design an activity or exercise that matches the objective as closely as possible. In this scenario, ideally, we would have each learner change a tire, using all the tools and equipment, according to the steps listed in the car owner’s manual.
Here’s another example. Can you identify the task, conditions, and standard?
Given all necessary resources, the server will serve customers according to the steps of the performance checklist.
If you said, “the server will serve customers” is the task statement, “given all necessary resources” represents the conditions, and “according to the steps of the performance checklist,” is the standard, you’d be correct! Once again, our goal, as designers, is to design an activity that matches the objective as closely as possible. In this scenario, each learner would role play serving a customer, using all necessary resources (i.e. a menu, order pad or tablet, plates, credit card terminal, etc.), according to the steps listed in the performance checklist.
Imagine you are a new-hire trainee who must perform a critical end-of-course exercise. You will be monitored and observed by a trainer while performing this exercise. Should you complete it successfully, you advance to your hired role within the organization. However, if you are unsuccessful, you must retake the training.
If you were told you were unsuccessful and must retake training, wouldn’t you want to know why? Wouldn’t you want to know where you went wrong? If the training is designed with clear, valid performance metrics such as a standard, that information can be referred to in the case of questionable or ineffective performance. It’s also a good practice to have that standard documented in a policy and procedure manual, an employee handbook, or an SOP (standard operating procedure).
A well-written performance-based objective sets your trainees up for success. As a matter of fact, Dr. Robert F. Mager, a well-known expert on training and human performance, wrote an entire book on learning objectives. In his book, Preparing Instructional Objectives, Dr. Mager states “objectives are tools for describing intended training outcomes. They provide a key component for making instruction successful.”
For more information on training and learning objectives, the Instructional Design for New Designers course is the best place to start!
This article was first published January 13, 2020.