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Why we don’t bother with learning objectives anymore

When it comes to workplace training, is the learning objective dead? We think so. Here’s why and what you can do instead. 

Why we don’t bother with learning objectives anymore

Who Blooming cares?

Let’s start with some background


Learning objectives are usually based on Bloom’s Taxonomy. This theory says that there are six levels of learning, ranging from the simple recall of knowledge to the much more demanding analysis and evaluation.

To achieve each level, the learner needs to demonstrate certain actions. These actions are described by a set of verbs associated with each level. These range from define and list at the lowest level, to design and create at the highest.

Because of the supposedly shallow nature of digital learning, there’s a universal consensus that only the first two or three levels are achievable. The associated verbs become the learning objectives for the training, which is why we often see objectives like:

  • List the ways…
  • Explain why…
  • Describe how…

The idea is that we can pretty much guarantee learners will go away from the learning solution being able to do these things. 

Still awake? It gets more exciting from here, promise… 

So what’s the problem with learning objectives? 

Bloom’s Taxonomy-influenced objectives are kind of arrogant, if you think about it. How can we be sure that every learner, with their unique characteristics, experience and skills, will come away from a training module being able to do exactly the same things? 

Maybe Fiona in accounts neglected to read a single word and cheat-sheeted her way through the test, whereas Aziz on the front desk pored over the content and came to his own surprisingly profound conclusions. 

So what’s the point of obsessively second-guessing exactly what people will get out of our content? And why are we restricting our hopes to the lowest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, anyway? 

Do L&D teams really roll out expensive training programmes in the hope that their people will be able to make a list or explain a concept

No. They invest considerable money and resources into training in the hope that learners will change in ways that have a real, measurable impact on the success of the whole organisation. 

Right now, traditional learning objectives are totally disconnected from that goal. Which is why, in typical THRIVE style, we took a long, hard look at the concept and asked how we could do better.

How we started again

Inspired by Cathy Moore’s beautifully simple action mapping model, we developed a new way of figuring out what we’re trying to teach people. 

Here’s what it looks like for THRIVE’s off-the-shelf learning catalogue…

The goal 

Our catalogue is grouped into bundles of content, like our bundle on mental health which contains 13 separate learning resources (that’s the catch-all term we use, since we include more formats than the traditional module).

We always begin by defining one big overall goal for the bundle. This is the change we want to see in the world as a result of people working through the content. 

For mental health, for example, our goal is to:

Create a more positive atmosphere around mental health. 

The behaviours

The next step is to figure out what specific behaviour changes we need to see in learners to achieve this goal. 

For mental health, among other things, we want to make learners:

  • More conscious of the state of their own mental health
  • Better at having conversations about mental health
  • Have more empathy towards those experiencing mental health issues

The content

Only after we’ve done all this do we even start thinking about what content we need to communicate.

The vehicle through which we talk to learners is the learning resource. We view each resource as a set of information and activities designed to help the learner achieve at least one of the behaviour changes set out at the bundle level. 

We don’t need learning objectives, because we don’t see each piece of content as a finely-tuned vehicle that has to guarantee certain achievements. Instead we focus our energy on encouraging what we want to happen. 

So, two people might take away two completely different messages after going through the same content. And that’s okay. We don’t try to predict and control every aspect of the learning experience, because – as well as being futile – that sounds frankly exhausting. 

Without a series of theory-based boxes to tick, a whole world of creative possibility opens up. Which leads us on to…

The results so far

Since we’ve been using this new approach, we’ve seen individual learning resources become far more targeted and practical. 

Take the mental health bundle again. We’ve got resources with names like:

  • Positive self-talk
  • Supporting someone who’s struggling
  • Guided breathing exercise
  • Where to get help

It’s a world away from the snooze-inducing mental health awareness modules traditionally offered by the industry, which impersonally list out symptoms and other facts in a bid to get learners to do the same. 

When we use this new approach, each of our learning resources naturally ends up with a practical purpose and reflects the sort of content people search for on their own

On the design side, we’ve found that many of the problems we used to have deciding what content to include simply don’t happen any more. We just ask ourselves one simple question: does this information help achieve the behaviours we’ve identified? If the answer’s no, out it goes. 

And, without being held back by learners having to list this or describe that after completing a resource, we’re finding that we’re becoming more and more innovative in what we’re creating. 

This is compounded by the fact that we’re encouraging behaviour change, rather than force-feeding knowledge. So we’re always looking for creative ways to get people to buy in to our core messages and persuade them to do things differently.

The result? We’re creating content that’s more engaging and thought-provoking than ever.

What’s next?

Leaving learning objectives behind is just part of THRIVE’s vow to question everything that’s taken for granted. The goal-behaviours approach is working for us for now, but who knows what the future will bring. 

Whatever happens, I reckon it’s going to be blooming bright, don’t you?

Interested in learning more about how your L&D team can change your employees’ behaviours and have a real, measurable impact? Explore our off-the-shelf elearning solutions designed to do just that. Well you know – you’ve just read all about it! 

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