Monday, February 27, 2017

Learning Objectives are Dead Unless You Do CPR - Tip #122

Learning objectives are good as basis for defining what we want to impart to learners.

Unfortunately, when we stop there, learners find the learning objectives senseless and as a result, disengage and/or skip the objectives altogether.

A Linear Structure Kills Learning Objectives

A typical course — its objectives, content and context as well as the type of lessons in this course follow a linear structure, which is common in traditional learning designs.

Below is an illustration of the difference in learning objectives between the traditional objectives and Story Questions:
The topic is Avoiding Burglary in your store. The target learners are Retail Store Managers.

Traditional learning objectives are factual statements; they’re bland and frankly boring. On the other hand, story questions provide learners with clearer images and reference points. They stimulate the mind and attract learners’ attention unconsciously and instantaneously.

Breathe Life Into “Dead” Learning Objectives

In my years of experience using stories to deliver lessons, I’ve found that there are a number of effective ways to revive learning objectives. Here are some of them:

The Set Up

The Set Up is a story-based learning objective which helps learners arrive at a State of Readiness. That is, the objective gives learners a glimpse or peek at what lies ahead. It answers the question “What can I look forward to in this lesson?” and helps learners imagine content goals in real-life situations.

To help learners get into their state of readiness, try the following approaches:
  • Show a challenging scene from the story
  • Ask story questions to help learners visualize possible consequences

Focus on context
Story-based learning objectives are driven by context, which they quickly turn into contextual form. They aid learners visualize the value of the context in real-life content.

Use the table above to guide you through the specific steps you can follow to help you convert your content into highly contextualized learning objectives.

Use probing questions

A simple way to spice up learning objectives is to convert them into story questions. Story questions point learners to a vivid picture of the content in the context of a real-life event or story.

A trick on how to do this is to get “behind the scenes” and dig up the story driving the factual statements. There’s always a story behind every factual statement. Keep digging!

Embed learning objectives in stories

Speaking of stories, why not try embedding learning objectives in a story-based lesson? This will allow you to follow through or continue using the story to deliver the rest of the lesson. Plus, this method is more exciting, don’t you think?

There are four steps to embed learning goals in stories. These are as follows:
  1. Think of learning objectives as outcomes and as observable behaviors.
  2. Think deeply of the patterns of behaviors and the stories associated with them.
  3. Tell the story that helps learners identify and discover what you want them to learn.
  4. Show the actions and use first-person words of characters.

Objectives as discovery points

This tip helps make learning objectives less intrusive to learners. To achieve this, we have to help learners see the value of the lesson by focusing on the impacts.

Try transforming learning objectives into discovery points, which are topic areas that learners are interested in at one point in time. Infuse/attach positive or negative consequences to learning objectives. For example:

Version 1: Understanding Manager Responsibilities in Safety Violations

Version 2: Be a Manager, Go to Jail Law

I actually did an experiment on these two versions way back. We used the first version to promote my seminars and around 150 registered and attended. But when we used version 2 in our next round of promotions, we received a whopping 500 participants in each location. Amazing!

Relocate traditional learning objectives
Try relocating learning objectives at the top as shown in the image above. This way, you comply with HR requirements and at the same time, provide learners with the option to view it at their leisure.


Just as sailors need lighthouses to guide their ships at night, trainers and learners need learning objectives to navigate the deep and wide ocean of training and development.

Learning objectives form the base or foundation for program content and activities and how these are sequenced or divided. So it’s important to create learning objectives that help both trainer and learners focus on what really is important.


Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation, Carnegie Mellon University. Learning Objectives
Ray Jimenez. Learners are in a State of Readiness - Avoid Rigid Learning Objectives. Vignettes Learning Blog, October 12, 2011
Ray Jimenez. How to Embed Learning Goals in Stories. Vignettes Learning Blog, October 11, 2010

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"


  1. As always you have made your point clear and given great advice. Turning objectives into questions definitely helps draw the learners into the program.

  2. I love the concept and utilize stories in all my instructional design. I'm going to give this a try. However, I noticed a lack of explanation on evaluating the learning. Traditional learning objectives make it clear what is to be learned and thus what will be measured. This helps to set induction. However I'm not sure how to evaluate the learner when the objective was a question to begin with. Can they fill out the incident report? I don't know. The story questions above never stated that they needed to.


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