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Writing Behavioural Objectives

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An objective is a statement of what the students should be able to do once they have completed a section of the course. It is an indicator of what learning has taken place. Notice that I said indicator rather than measure. Learning goes on inside a student's head and, therefore, cannot be directly measured.

So while it is perfectly possible to have an objective of 'understanding interpersonal skills', this is not very useful for measuring the effectiveness of the training. The students could be asked whether they understand interpersonal skills, and the trainer could gain a 'feeling' for how much has been understood by general questioning or observation. But still, there would always be doubt as to whether the students had met the objective.

Another approach is to use indirect indicators, such as something the students should be able to do if learning has taken place. Behavioural objectives include Indirect indicators that measure what the student can do. The skill in this approach is deciding what these indicators should be.

For example, a student who understands interpersonal skills should be able to recognise and use all the different categories of verbal behaviour. Although a trainer can hear the trainees using verbal behaviours, checking whether somebody has recognised something is a little more difficult. One way around this would be to show a video of several different behaviours and have the student state the name of each behaviour.

The next question is how many of the responses would have to be correct to satisfy the trainer that the student understood interpersonal skills. Would it be 5 per cent, 20 per cent, 80 per cent or 100 per cent?

Taking all this into account, the objectives for 'understanding' interactive skills would look like this:

A good objective has three components:

  1. Behaviour — what the student will be expected to do.
  2. Conditions — the conditions under which the behaviour has to occur.
  3. Standard — the acceptable level of performance.

In the interactive skills example the behaviours are:

The conditions are:

And the standards are:

Writing objectives is hard work, but writing tests becomes very easy if done to the above standard. As a good objective gives the criteria and conditions under which the behaviour should occur, it also gives the conditions and standards for the test.

A test does not have to be an 'examination'. The minimum condition is that the trainer should be able to observe the desired behaviour so the standards can be checked to see whether the training has been effective.

Objectives are an essential tool for students and course presenters. They determine the content of the course. Course presenters use them to measure what has been learned, and students use objectives to overview what they will know. Be careful not to give students the same objective detail you would use for presenting or developing a course. Although detailed objectives are needed for presenters and developers, students would be confused if they were presented with the following objective at the beginning of a course:

‘By the end of the module you will be able to identify the: central processing unit, the random access memory, the read only memory, the video display unit and the input/output interfaces.’

After all, if they already knew what these terms meant, they would not have to attend the course. A better objective to give a student at the start of a course would be:

'By the end of the module, you will be able to identify all the major components of a circuit board.'

Some objectives describe behaviours or conditions that can only exist in the classroom, such as: 'will have participated in three simulations'.

It is much better to have objectives describing behaviour and conditions that can be measured inside and outside the classroom. This not only allows you to monitor learning inside the classroom but also to monitor the transfer of learning to the business.

Written, question-and-answer tests should only be used when it is impossible to use a practical example of a task that must be done in the workplace.

As a final check, ensure every objective has a corresponding test, and every test item is related to an objective.

Beavioural Objectives are based on a framework developed by American psychologist Robert F. Mager (1923–2020).

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