Action-verbs for strong learning objectives

This is part two of our three-part series discussing learning objectives within training courses

Last week, we established the definition of a learning objective. Now that we have the basics covered, we can discuss what constitutes strong learning objectives and how to create them using measurable action-verbs. 

By implementing levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, “a classification of the different objectives and skills that educators set for their students (learning objectives), we can begin to map out what composes a strong learning objective. 

In short, Bloom’s Taxonomy is comprised of six levels of learning:

  1. Remembering
  2. Understanding
  3. Applying
  4. Analyzing
  5. Evaluating
  6. Creating

By understanding this hierarchy of learning, employers can better develop the design of their training course and its objectives. So, let’s break this down a bit.

Considering that this taxonomy is hierarchical, each level builds upon the next, e.g., to understand something, you must first remember it, and to apply a concept, you must understand it. It is not necessary to complete all six steps in order though; some learning objectives might require lower or higher levels of the taxonomy. 

Let’s translate this to a Learning and Development strategy. For example, a company wants to train its employees on a new Point-of-Sale (POS) technology. The goal is that by the end of training, employees will be able to demonstrate a timely and efficient use of the POS. So what can they do to arrive at that goal? How can they discern what the learning objectives should be?

Using parts of Bloom’s Taxonomy in this situation can help map out the learning objectives for the training course. Using the right language in this case is incredibly important. Each level of the Taxonomy is associated with measurable action-verbs that can help you build your objectives. If the goal is that employees will be able to demonstrate a timely and efficient use of the POS, the verb “demonstrate” falls under the “Applying” level of the taxonomy.

In the last blog post, we determined that learning objectives should be measurable and testable. A strong objective will include measurable action-verbs so that the course can be built around reaching this objective and employees will be able to be tested on the knowledge and completion of the objective. 

A poor learning objective will use vague or passive language that cannot easily establish what the purpose of the training will accomplish. Using the POS training example, a poor learning objective could be, “by the end of training, employees should be familiar with the POS.” While being familiar with the POS might be an important facet of training down the line, it does not accomplish the overall learning goal of being able to use the POS.  

Following the taxonomy, the path of the course leading to the learning objective will look like this: To apply the use of the POS, the employee must understand it. To understand the POS, the employee must remember its layout.

Most importantly, if you get stuck trying to figure out what the objectives should be, ask questions. The objectives lie within the questions that you want to answer throughout the training course. Asking questions like, “what does success in this training look like?” or “how will we know if the employee has mastered the topic?” can help you formulate training that establishes and reaches the objectives.

With the POS example, we know that the end goal is to be able to demonstrate a timely and efficient use of the POS. To achieve that goal, the objectives for the training course could be: 

  • Train employees to operate the interface of the POS
  • Train employees to complete sales, refunds, or discounted transactions without manager supervision
  • Train employees to complete a transaction within a 2 minute time constraint 

Once again, these objectives use measurable action-verbs that will ascertain success in training. 

To summarize, how can we create strong learning objectives? By establishing a learning goal, asking questions, and using action-verb language.

Next week we will focus on the positive outcomes of implementing strong learning objectives in training courses.