I’m trying to wrap my head around how learning objectives became the de facto approach to learning design (in particular in elearning). Almost all training and learning design begins with a “learning objective” – a clear, concise statement of what the learner will be able to do after exploring the content. Most resources for developing learning objectives include a lengthy list of appropriate verbs useful in crafting the objective. These verbs, coupled with specific criterion, conditions, and standards, are central to writing “good” objectives.
Is there another way? Do we have the wrong view of designing? Instructional designers assume that learning will occur in a course-based format. Yet our learning occurs in a rich environment of diverse experiences – email, conversations, communities, workshops, tutorials, seminars, etc. If instructional designers remain focused on the narrow subset of designing for courses, they will quickly usher themselves into irrelevance.
Our entire learning system is still largely based on the schema that the learner is an empty container that we as educators fill. We talk about dynamic, learner-centered instruction. Often those words deny the reality that our institutions are primarily set up to “fill learners”. The very process of writing objectives states that we know what learners need to know. This may be true in some instances, but in most cases, I believe that learning objectives should be more of a dialogue than a statement of fact. Learners should be able to input their own needs and interest (or personal objectives) into the process. A learner’s motivations and objectives for learning are important. In many cases, they are more important than what the instructor feels they should know.
Highly structured information transmission is more suited for pre-determined objectives (in particular when introducing learners to the basic language and concepts of a field…or any point when learners do not have a well developed base of knowledge for making new connections). Our education system is starting to see less and less of these types of learners. Instead, we are seeing learners entering second or third careers who are often tech savvy, highly motivated, and aware of their own learning needs. Isn’t it time that we consider updating our design methodologies? Our learners have changed. Why haven’t we?