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Writing Strategic Learning Objectives

December 8, 2010

A few months ago I was asked to write strategic learning objectives for a client’s training project. While I have developed learning objectives for years, I still learned quite a bit while performing the task and wanted to share my experience with you.

Defining strategic

My first learning opportunity was to define what makes a learning objective “strategic” and how that is different from the objectives I’ve been writing. Most resources I discovered define two types of learning objectives. The first is the strategic objective where the learning event is aligned to a business process or goal. The second is the tactical objective or the learning events that lead up to the strategic objective. (If you want to do your own research, the primary objectives are also known as performance objectives and the secondary objectives as enabling objectives.)

Why write strategic objectives when they are essentially supported by tactical objectives?

Next, I learned strategic objectives align training to real business results by requiring the instructor to perform an analysis to ensure the instructors understand what needs to be shared, learners know what they are supposed to learn and the business can recognize the return on investment. Tactical objectives support strategic objectives.

What are the components of a strategic learning objective?

Objectives should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (SMART). Let’s step through the process of developing a strategic learning objective for a fictional course for a metadata cleansing tool.

Step 1: Identify the audience who will be learning.

    – Anyone in the firm who sends email attachments

Step 2: Define the behavior the learner will be able to do differently. When defining behavior, there are three types to be considered – skills, knowledge or attitude. In this example we are defining a skill.

    – Check for metadata

Step 3: Determine the conditions required for the learner to successfully meet the objective.

    – Using the metadata software

Step 4: Write the objective using the following formula:


Step 5: Write the tactical objectives.

    – Review the firm’s risk management policy for sending email outside of the firm
    – Send an email with attachments cleansed by the metadata tool
    – Modify metadata cleansing options

Keep in mind the following:

    – Every job is driven by a process. Identifying the process will help you determine the behavior and the performance necessary to fill the skills gap.
    – Use strong action verbs. Awareness and understanding are considered mental processes which cannot be readily measured and should be avoided in favor of action verbs that are measureable. I tend to believe awareness is increasingly important because of the rapid change to technology and so I was happy to come across a table of verbs  I could use instead.
Knowledge Define, describe, state, list, name, write, recall, recognize, label, underline, select, reproduce, outline, match
Comprehension Identify, justify, select, indicate, illustrate, represent, name, formulate, explain, judge, contrast, classify
Application Predict, select, assess, explain, choose, find, show, demonstrate, construct, compute, use, perform
Analysis Analyze, identify, conclude, differentiate, select, separate, compare, contrast, justify, resolve, break down, criticize
Synthesis Combine, restate, summarize, precise, argue, discuss, organize, derive, select, relate, generalize, conclude
Evaluation Judge, evaluate, determine, recognize, support, defend, attack, criticize, identify, avoid, select, choose


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