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The Importance of Good Objectives

Applying Good Instructional Design Principles to Writing Online Courses

Each month we will cover one topic related to using good instructional design Principles when building online courses. This month, we will discuss the importance of good objectives.


Hey there, why don’t you come over to my house?

What’s wrong with that question? Think about it. Do you know me? Do you know where my house is? Would you know how to get there? Do you know why you would be coming over? Would you be likely to say, “Sure, I’ll just hop in my car and head on over?”


Probably not. You’d likely want to know a lot more information before you decided to come over. And then if you did decide to come, you would probably want to know how to get there. What if I gave you directions like this?

  • The Mall

  • The Stop Sign

  • The Bank

  • The Gas Station

A lot of online courses are presented just like that ~ here is my course and here is the list of topics. As great content providers you really want to do more than that. Learners taking your courses need to know what they are going to get out of the course (what’s in for them), and they need a good roadmap for how they will get there. And that is what good objectives are all about.



You’ll Know How to Frame Objectives to Keep You and Your Learners on Track

Before you even begin to write your course, you should be asking yourself this question, “What will my learners be able to do at the end of the course that they couldn’t do at the beginning?” And… your answer needs to be as concrete as possible. Let’s say you want to develop a course on iPhone photography. You might answer that question like this, “They will be able to take really good pictures.” That would be a splendid outcome, but it’s a little bit like saying, “Come on over, we can watch a great movie.” It still might be a bit hard for you to know how to get there or even if you want to come.


Instead, you might get more specific and write something like, “They will be able to apply five essential techniques to taking great pictures with an iPhone.” Now we have told the learners where they are going and why they should go there. In instructional design terms that’s called a terminal objective because it’s what they will be able to do at the end.


Knowing where the course is going is a great start, but we haven’t given the learners a very good map, have we? We really want to avoid the trap of listing the topics, because what do they mean, after all? We need to put on our instructional design hat and ask ourselves, “What would the learner need to know or do, in order to accomplish what we want to teach them?” And... we want to make sure we answer the question like this:


[context], the learner will be able to apply [knowledge/action], in order to [result].


Using our photography course example, you might write these next objectives like the example that follows. (Hint: the color coding should help you identify each part of the question.)


While using the iPhone to take a picture, the learner will be able to correctly hold it in order to stabilize the camera and keep the lens clear.


You’ll Know and Be Able to Use the Cool Secret Sauce of Objectives

Now here comes the very cool secret sauce that great instructional designers know, and now you will too. Ask yourself this question, “What would happen to my final outcome, if the learners did NOT know this?” Can you see how useful that is? What if you had written your objective like this, “Learners will know all the parts of the iPhone camera and how they work?” Do you think you might have taught them quite a few things they really don’t need to know? You can ask the question another way, too, “What would happen to the final thing I want them to learn if they did not know this?”


How much cooler is it when you tell people, “Here is what you are going to be able to do when you finish this course.” Isn’t it a whole lot more interesting if I say to you, ”Why don’t you come over to my house and watch an advance copy of the new Marvel movie with me? And oh, by the way, I’ll give you a link to a great site you can stream on your way over that will tell you how to get there and everything you need to know to have the best time watching that movie now and in the future?”


So, to sum it all up, using objectives is like giving your potential learners super great reasons to take your course and a lot of good reasons to get excited about it. And best yet, that same roadmap will keep you on track as you write the course so that you don’t spend a lot of time on sidetracks that don’t get you and the learners where you want to go.

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