Let’s run a quick experiment.
Think of the beginning of a book, show, movie, or video game. How did you feel after getting through that opening for the first time? Who or what did you want to know more about? What did you think was going to happen next? Is that what happened next?
Now think of the beginning of an eLearning course. How did you feel after getting through that opening for the first time? Who or what did you want to know more about? What did you think was going to happen next? Is that what happened next?
If you answered those two sets of questions differently you’re not alone. One of the biggest differences is that eLearning tends to literally spell out what’s going to happen next, often with a learning objectives screen. In entertainment, that would be considered “spoilers.” Can you imagine what that book, show, movie, or video game would have been like if it did the same thing?
“By the end of this installment:
- _____ will die
- _____ and _____ will get married
- _____ wins a war against _____”
Would you have read, watched, or played it if you’d been given that information in the first few minutes? Would you have enjoyed it as much?
Learning objectives are like plot points. They need to be there to provide structure and momentum, but they don’t have to be spelled out in advance. They’re important, but there are more ways to use or handle them than to just plop them onto the traditional “Today you’re going to learn” screen at the beginning of a course. I guess you could consider this “Advanced” learning objective considerations.
Here are a few different ways you can use or present learning objectives:
- Turn them into questions
Instead of “List the six steps for making a sale” try “Can you list the six steps for making a sale?” It’s a simple change. But it’s one that can prompt thoughts like, “I’m pretty sure I can” or “I didn’t realize we had formal steps for this.” That gets engagement started.
- Use them as a recap, instead of an introduction
Give the terminal objective at the beginning to provide a general sense of direction, but leave the specifics for the end. That way the learner has already been through the content and it’ll serve as a quick reminder. This could also work alongside the idea below.
- “Unlock” them as the learner progresses
Show how many objectives there are, but don’t reveal what they are until the learner gets to each topic. That way they can check their progress but you’re not giving away “what’s going to happen next.” The learner can guess based on what’s already happened.
- Turn them into actionable goals
This usually fits best in learning-by-doing, such as a simulation or role-play. Make the objective something the learner needs to do immediately. In a sales simulation where there’s a customer to talk with it might be, “Persuade the customer to buy your product.”
- Keep them in the background
Instructional designers need learning objectives to keep a course focused and relevant. But learners don’t always read or remember them. Depending on the course, you may be able to give learners just the terminal objective and keep the rest “behind the scenes.”
Learning objectives are like plot points and, unfortunately, they often turn into spoilers. Consider a different take on using and presenting them besides the traditional learning objectives screen. You might actually get your learners wondering what’s going to happen next.
If you’d like to read more about training, learning, and instructional design check out the rest of this author’s blogs.
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