What’s the objective?

Before we sit down and consider the materials or content required for an instructional course, we have to be clear about where we’re headed. After all, we don’t usually set off on a long journey without knowing at least knowing where our final destination is! At best, we might may by arrive there by sheer chance although not without much time wasted.

Image illustrating a wandering path

In determining the path for our learners, we need to do the following:

  • Identify the knowledge gap or problem you are trying to solve
  • Determine the gaps between the starting point and the destination
  • Decide how far you will be able to go in the time allowed

Identify the Problem

If the problem for your students or employees is a lack of motivation, then putting together a long, technical course filled to the brim with facts and figures isn’t going to address the root of the issue. Once you have identified the actual problem that needs to be addressed, you can narrow down our list of solutions to those which will best help the learners to understand the purpose of the course and how it can benefit them personally.

It also helps to be as specific as possible. Starting out with the aim to “improve the student’s homework scores” or “raise employee performance” can be too general – goals such as “students need to better understand calculus and apply it to practice test questions”, or “sales staff need to be able to recommend suitable products to clients more effectively” is much better.

Determine the Gaps

When establishing your learning objectives, it’s crucial to examine why learners may not currently be meeting those objectives. These gaps between their current capabilities and the desired outcomes can take various forms, such as knowledge gaps, skills gaps, motivation or attitude gaps, habit gaps, environment gaps, and communication gaps.

Now, the question arises: which should take precedence, the learning objectives or the gaps? The truth is, both are equally important. Often, you begin with a specific need or challenge, prompting you to investigate both learning objectives and performance gaps simultaneously. They are interlinked, and one may inform the other. For instance, if you aim to train individuals on using a software’s advanced analysis feature, your learning objective could be about their ability to run analysis reports. However, through a gap analysis, you might discover that learners already know how to run the reports but lack knowledge about accessing their own data in the analysis. Consequently, this finding would lead you to modify the learning objective accordingly.

Work out how far you need to go

During my time teaching IELTS (an academic English qualification for non-native-speakers) writing classes, I noticed a pattern. With most students, I could make noticeable improvements in their structure and organization score relatively quickly, thanks to simply teaching basic essay paragraphing and topic sentences. These skills were information-based or relatively easy to learn, and I could help them achieve a reasonable level of mastery in a few hours.

However, their grammar scores posed a trickier challenge. This required skills like punctuation, sentence structure, grammar tenses and tone of voice, which couldn’t be easily acquired over a weekend; they demanded significant time and practice, often spanning years.

This experience taught me that some knowledge or skills can be acquired relatively quickly, while others require a more extended period of dedicated effort and practice to develop fully.

Image illustrating the learner's journey

The journey of a learner has its limitations, and as educators and learners alike, we must recognize the time and effort required to develop various skills. While some aspects of learning may progress quickly, others may necessitate a more patient and persistent approach to achieve mastery.

When designing a course or learning program, it really helps to identify which skills are going to take the most time so you can allow as much practice time as possible on those specific areas. In cases where the time required exceed the bounds of the course itself, possible solutions include expert long-term coaching, further practice sessions, or learner progress assessments undertaken by a coach, teacher, or supervisor.

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In conclusion, by carefully identifying the problem, understanding the gaps, and gauging the time required for skill development, we can design more effective and tailored learning experiences for our students or employees.

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