Writing SMART Objectives for eLearning

Have you ever found yourself in an eLearning course, workshop, or professional development training session and were completely unclear about what exactly it is you were supposed to be learning or what the whole point of the thing was? I’m sure most of us, no matter what field we are from, can say we’ve experienced this at least once during our careers. Countless hours are wasted on poorly designed and executed learning experiences that could have otherwise provided meaningful and useful skills and information—except something got lost in translation.

This issue is especially important to address when designing content for an eLearning solution, where the instructor is not always immediately available to answer clarifying questions; eLearning content must be able to stand alone and speak for itself. So how can we avoid this moving forward? How can you, as an instructor/teacher/curriculum writer/instructional designer/etc. ensure that the eLearning experience you design is meaningful and effective and doesn’t get lost in translation?

You can start by writing SMART objectives. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.

Specific: The objective should clearly and succinctly state the knowledge or skills learners should be able to demonstrate as a result of the learning experience. Be sure that your word choice is precise and avoid making vague or overly generic goals.

Measurable: This part of the acronym focuses on the evaluation standards and should include some quantifiable measurement. After all, the purpose of setting objectives is determine if the learner can meet, perform, or satisfy it, and you cannot determine this if the objective isn’t measurable.

 In composing this portion of your objective, also consider the use of verbs from Bloom’s Taxonomy (and even Lorin Anderson’s revised version of Bloom’s Taxonomy). You cannot measure a learner’s understanding of a concept unless the demonstrate it through some kind of action; here is where the list of Bloom’s verbs come in handy.

Attainable: This is where you ask yourself, Is this objective achievable, realistic, and feasible? In answering this question, don’t forget to consider your target audience: do they have the appropriate experience, background knowledge, skills, and resources to successfully satisfy the objective?

Relevant: Does the objective align with the overall goal/purpose/focus of the course (or, does it align with the overall direction of the business/organization)? Think about the big picture. At the end of the learning experience, will your target audience be able to answer the  So What? question: so what—what does it matter, why is it important?

Time-bound: This portion of your objective identifies the time in which something should be done. Your objective should include a deadline. Be realistic in the deadlines you set and build in milestones along the way to track progress and keep both you and learners accountable to the deadline.

Writing SMART objectives for your eLearning course provides you as the designer a framework from which to build your course; these objectives create a plan of action to guide the development of course content. Having SMART objectives in place can ensure that the eLearning experience you design maintains focus and relevancy throughout the duration of the entire course. The result is an eLearning experience which learners find both effective and meaningful—and nothing gets lost in translation.

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