By: Daniel Maddox
Course developers seem to diverge in terms of how to create course objectives. I have observed two very different methods in use. This article examines the strengths and weaknesses of each method.
What do we need to teach?
Commonly, the first question that is asked when we sit down to create a course is, “What do we need to teach?” In a course I took in college, this was the question we were told to start with. It was also the question used by a documentation department I once worked for. This is a very simple question to start with, but it does bring with it some difficulties. Here is a brief description of how this method works:
|Initial||This question guides everything else that you do. You begin compiling a list of needed course content right off the bat.|
|1||After you figure out what you need to teach, you start asking questions about who you’re teaching, and what your goals are with that teaching. What is the audience’s background? What are their expectations? Where will they be trained? What technology is available?
It may be at this point that you write down the objectives for the course. However, you might wait until stage 2 or 3, when you have finalized your list of course content. That way, you can roll those categories of content up into objectives at the end of course preparation.
|2||Based on your analysis, you create a plan for getting the content together. Who are the subject matter experts whom you need to interview? What will the weekly expectations be for completing the work?|
|3||How do you ensure that you have taught the content you intended to? How do you ensure that your audiences really gets it, knows what they need to know, and can do what they need to do?
At this point, all that remains is to create the actual course content, deliver it, and evaluate it.
This is a very simple method to use. Anyone can sit down with a couple of subject matter experts or salespeople and write down a list of topics that need to be addressed. And anyone can look at that course content and create objectives that relate to teaching that content. This is really the only strength that I can think of. Simplicity is nice.
There is one glaring weakness with this method: How do you ensure that you have solved the right problem? If you start out by discussing what it is that you need to teach, how do you ensure that, to borrow from Stephen Covey, you are leaning your ladder against the right wall? You can evaluate the course however you want, but if you don’t start out by defining the problem, then how do you know that the successful delivery of a given set of content will solve that problem? This method puts the cart before the horse.
What is the problem? What are our objectives?
Here is a description of the second option we have in creating course objectives:
|Initial||The first questions you ask are: What do we want class participants to walk away with? What do we want to achieve in this course, at a high level?
Based on your answers to these questions, you create a list of overall objectives right off the bat.
|1||Based on your objectives, you know what content you will need to create in order to satisfy those objectives. The content begins to come together pretty quickly and logically at this point.|
|2||Based on the content that will meet the objectives, you figure out how to create and deliver the content in a way that satisfies the objectives most directly.|
|3||To do this right, you just go back to the overall objectives. Does the course content get us to these objectives?|
In this situation, you will know at the end of your evaluations whether or not the course was successful in solving the original business problem.
There is a higher up-front cost to using this method. You might need to have a separate, initial meeting with subject matter experts to nail down overall objectives before you can begin actually deciding what content to deliver in the course.
How do you move from option #1 to option #2? What if there is significant resistance to this change in your organization? What if people just want to ask, “Hey, what do we need to teach here?”
Why not start with a testing of the new method? Use the old method to create one course. This is your control group. Then use the new, objectives-focused method to create a course. When you have performed your evaluations, go back and compare the two methods, to see which actually did more to solve the problems that they were created to solve. With careful analysis, you and your management will see how much sense it makes to create objectives before thinking about what content to deliver.