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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Definitions: ABCD Objectives

Here is how to create an effective Learning Objective.

A learning objective simply states the behavior orknowledge change you would like to see from a learner. An objective is the final outcome desired from a learning event. Objectives need to be stated in a manner that is easily understood and measured by the designers and deliverers of the training.

While objectives can be stated and developed using a variety of techniques, one of the most effective methods is to state an objective using the ABCD format The ABCD format is an acronym representing the words, audience, behavior, condition, and degree. Objectives written in this format are specific and measurable.

Audience: The audience is the group of individuals who are targeted for instruction. While at first this seems straight forward, many times employees will ask “will I get anything out of this training?” or “should I attend this training?” or “who is supposed to go to this training?” Without a clear-cut audience in mind, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly who gains from the training and who would be better served in a different class. Knowing the intended audiences is useful for the training developers; they need to understand the knowledge levels and aptitudes that must be accommodated in the training.

Behavior: The behavior element of the objective indicates the desired outcome of the particular learning event. The behavior will be stated in the following form “will be able to detail properly” or “will be able to discuss the mechanism of action (MOA) with the doctor.” The behavior is what you want the person to be able to do as a result of the training. It is important to clarify the behavior because training programs can get off track when the desired outcome of the training activity is not clearly defined. A behavior like “understand how to sell a product” is not effective because “understanding” is difficult to measure. You want something more concrete such as “be able to describe four methods for overcoming objections.”

Condition: The term “condition” describes circumstances under which the behavior should occur. An example would be “when calling on a doctor,” or “upon hearing that the doctor is using a competitor’s product.” The condition describes a trigger for the desired behavior.

Degree: The term “degree” represents how well the employee must perform to be considered acceptable. The degree of the objective is the measurable component. Measures can be expressed as level of productivity, quantity, quality, time, internal or external customer requirements, or other criteria gained from actual or anticipated work practices.

Here are two examples:
  • A customer service representative, when receiving an incoming phone order from a customer, will correctly identify the needs of the customer and record the information into the automated order entry system with zero clerical or typographical errors.
  • The LMS team leader, when faced with a decision regarding prioritization of tasks for the LMS implementation, will correctly select the proper priority sequence as compared to a list developed by a panel of LMS implementation consultants.


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Tony Forster said...

"Objectives need to be stated in a manner that is easily understood and measured by the designers and deliverers of the training."

Education is not simple, many worthwhile outcomes cannot be easily understood or measured. Are we to limit education to those things which can be simply understood and measured?

Karl Kapp said...

Ah, Tony,

An age old question...what is the difference between training and education...I think that measurable, defineable objectives are acceptable for a training (corporate) environment, why not. Every other group in a company, accounting, production, sales is held to measurable objectives, why not the training department? Arguing that we can't measure what we do is part of the reason the training profession is not seen as credible as say accounting.

So, I think most of the learning objectives in a corporate setting should be measurable in some way. I not a behavioralist per say so I don't think all learning is behaviorally driven but in organizations focused on reaching specific objectives, then we should create training to meet those specific objectives. Really only a small amount of work in any corporation is centered on higher level learning like problem-solving anyway. Most is procedurally driven in anticipation of specific measurable results.

Having said that, educating someone is a totaly different topic. I think there is incredible value in not having a specific, measurable goal. You write a lot about educational gaming so, I think you would agree, that learners can take even the most rigid game design and create their own within games. My sons will manipulate games like Madden 2007 to do things like, let's see how long we can run toward our own goal before the other team catches us. This is clearly not the goal of the game but kids experiment, explore the rules, test boundaries...all great learning.

When kids and others manipulate the environment so they can apply their own rules...this is fanstastic learning that cannot be reduced to a measurable objective, it can not be pre-planned, it just happens...that is great learning.

The ideal learning opportunity is probably something in the middle. Create a broad learning goal and then set the learners free to achieve the goal.

We did this with Lego Robotics, we got a bunch of middle school kids together and told them to build and program a fast Lego car and then we let them fill in the specifics. You could literally walk around the room and "see" the kids learning.

So, I agree, education is not simple and many worthwile outcomes cannot and should not be measured. Training, on the other hand, is usually specific and it probably should have measurable goals.

Thanks for the comment.

Tony Forster said...

Thanks Karl for a considered reply.
I think you have it right. Behavioralist instruction and Constructivist learning both have their places. I think the reason why I and others get grumpy about instruction is that it represents the worst of our own school experiences, rote learning the principal exports of Bolivia and the kings of England.

One of the main arguments against Instruction and for Constructivism is the decreasing half life of knowledge and the need to equip students for life long learning. This is much less an issue for corporate training where the skills are immediately useful.

In schools, Constructivist learning is more appropriate though instruction in things like basic literacy and numeracy may still be desirable. Students probably need proficiency in these skills before they can do any higher order thinking with them.

It still worries me that schools talk the language of instruction, I do not want them to have "objectives that are easily understood and measured".