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March, 2008, Vol. 08, Issue 03

I Object: The Value of Learning Objectives

By Rita Woods, LMT

The key points in my last article were the need for professional classroom preparation using a variety of teaching methods, understanding that adult learners are focused on education that will change their life, "chunking" the material into easy-to-grasp concepts, and the 12 teaching principles that can guide you as both teacher and student.

This month's article is about learning objectives. You also may see them described as learning outcomes. They are the alpha and omega in education. Literally, it's how you begin and how you end. The objective is to inform the student what is expected of them, they also are used to create your lesson plan and the student's evaluation. In other words, they are used to teach and test. They are so important to the educational process that workshops on writing them correctly are still held for teachers and professors. Hopefully, I can simplify these objectives without getting caught up in the academic nomenclature, of which there is an abundance. There are even types of objectives named after famous educators. For our purposes here, we will talk about what they are, why they exist, what you use them for and the basics of how to write them.

Learning objectives must reflect what skills or knowledge someone will possess after completing a lesson. You also may need to include criteria that must be met. Those criteria can then be used to measure the students' progress. If it can be measured, it can be used to create tests, quizzes, practice sessions and such. It also assures fairness and objectivity. If all students must perform to a minimum standard of competence, what is that standard? You establish that standard with your learning objectives.

Something is expected to happen. You are trying to achieve an objective, create an outcome, gain new skills or learn new things. Change is your goal. Action is necessary. Therefore, your learning objectives need to contain verbs. There are lists of verbs commonly used in writing objectives. Without getting too deep into the differences between cognitive and performance-based objectives, just remember to choose a verb that is appropriate for the skill you want the student to learn. Some good verbs include define, classify, describe, explain, identify, perform, list, compare, and discuss. You can even find lists of appropriate verbs by doing a Web search under "writing learning objectives."

Remember, your objectives should reflect what the student should know or be able to perform after the lesson. You will need to give this some thought. It may seem like a lot of trouble if you aren't used to writing them, but they can make your life much easier in the long run. Your thought process might go something like this: I need to discuss how our muscles change with age. I have enough reference material to cover the topic. It's a growing issue within our profession. I'll need to cover both the academic aspect and the hands-on issues. I have one hour to devote to this topic. So, what do I want them to learn? One possible objective would be: The student will learn the effects of aging on muscle tissue.

That's OK, but it is not clearly measurable. A better option might be: The student will be able to list three changes that occur in the muscle tissue due to aging. Now from a hands-on viewpoint, without actually having to perform on an elderly client, you could say: The student will be able to describe three precautions when massaging an elderly client. You can see how easily those measurable objectives also could become test questions.

Objectives are used for a variety of training situations. Sometimes, it may seem like stating the obvious. However, you still must state the obvious in a detailed manner that reflects observable behavior. Let's say you've hired a receptionist for your business or have rented out a room, and the new person is expected to answer the phone. Your phone training procedure should include objectives. They should be observable because you want and expect the best. However, you may need to reprimand, fire or retrain that employee. Detailed documented training procedures, the same for all employees, may wind up being your only legal recourse if you fire them for poor performance and they pursue legal action against you. A little tip: Always have a detailed training procedure that is initialed by all employees.

So, let's say you created your phone training session and it looks like this: The employee will be able to answer the phone, greet callers and take messages. Kind of vague; isn't it? It may be difficult behavior to correct if they say, "Well, I answer the phone, say hello and take messages." But if you have had complaints about them, you may need to let them go. But wait; they're doing exactly what you said you wanted them to do, aren't they?

So, let's create a different list of objectives. Develop them around clear tasks and expected behaviors that are observable. For instance: The employee will be able to operate our telephone system, including answering the phone using the elements of proper phone etiquette, (you may even want to list some), retrieving new and old voice mail, placing a caller on hold, taking messages by using the office message pad, and transferring calls to the requested person. These detailed points could be bulleted under the main objective of operating the telephone system. Given the same employee was trained in these two different ways, which objectives do you think would produce the best results?

Whether you are the student or the trainer, knowing what is expected of you is the first step to success. Face it: You can't meet your objectives if you don't know what they are. Next month, we'll create lesson plans and exams around learning objectives. See you then!

Click here for previous articles by Rita Woods, LMT.


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