BookEnds“Regardless of the eloquence of the instructor or the cleverness of the procedures used, instruction is of little value unless its objectives are achieved—unless students depart the instruction able to perform at least as well as the objectives require.”

-Robert F. Mager 

Okay … so you’ve been asked to develop a training program that will bridge gaps between existing and desired performance.  You have conducted a thorough needs assessment, identified and confirmed the problem, and created an action plan for course development.  Now what?  What do you do next?

If your answer is to start creating the training materials, then you need to read on.  You’re close, but not quite there.  If your answer is to develop specific, observable, and measurable learning objectives that support the desired learning outcome, and then develop test/quiz items to evaluate learning in terms of those objectives, then CONGRATULATIONS!  You’re correct!  But please read on anyway … a little reinforcement is a good thing.

Measurable performance objectives and appropriate assessments to measure learning against those objectives are the bookends to effective training.  You can create training materials that include salient points, engaging activities, and stunning, supporting visuals—all elements of effective training—but without these important bookends, you would be hard pressed to evaluate whether the training achieved its intended outcome.

Let’s take a look at some best practices for ensuring a solid framework for your training.

When it comes to learning objectives for your training, remember the following: 

  • Learning objectives form the basis for what is to be learned, how well it is to be performed, and under what conditions it is to be performed.
  • Assume a learning objective will always answer the question, “What will the learner be able to do when they finish the training program?”
  • Learning objectives should be “learner-centric”.  Write your objectives from the viewpoint of what the participant will be able to do and not what the instructor will do or what the training will accomplish.
  • Use active voice. Be as specific as possible. Avoid vague terms such as "know," "learn," "comprehend," "study," "cover," and "understand."

Writing learning objectives can be as simple as A-B-C-D.  They should identify the following:

  1.  Audience – Who will be doing the behavior?
  2.  Behavior – What will the audience be able to do?
  3.  Conditions – Under what conditions must the mastery of skill occur?
  4.  Degree – What is good enough?

When it comes to writing tests/quizzes for your training, remember the following: 

  • Identify what specifically you are trying to measure (specific knowledge, skills, and abilities) by referring to the learning objectives
  • Make sure what the item is measuring matches the behavior and conditions stated in the learning objectives (remember ABCD?)
  • You cannot assess whether a learning objective has been achieved unless you ask the student to demonstrate mastery of that objective as it is written.

For example, suppose a learning objective stated, “At the end of this course, students will be able to type 100 words per minute with no errors while blindfolded.” (Work with me here …)  You would not assess mastery of this objective by asking students to identify the home row on a keyboard, would you?  What about asking them to label the keys on a blank keyboard?  Of course not … the only way to test mastery of that objective is to blindfold the student and ask them to type for one minute to determine if they did, in fact, type 100 words with no errors.

Keep this point in mind as you’re determining the most effective training strategy (eLearning, instructor-led, blended, etc.), as each offers its own set of advantages and limitations when it comes to capturing assessment metrics.

Determining what the student has learned is only possible if we establish the learning objectives first, then immediately craft an assessment that exactly matches the learning objectives. After you have built this framework for your training, then you are ready to create the materials.  In fact, it will be much easier to create the materials now that you have a structure in place … and bookends to hold them up. Be sure to tune in to the third and final installment of the CDM series: Content Development, Implementation, and Evaluation.



Measuring Instructional Results (The Mager Six-Pack) Robert F. Mager

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