How to Write a Meaningful Performance Objective

Know. Do. Believe. Avoid.

These four words are at the heart of determining the performance objectives for your training—and writing performance objectives is a critical piece of designing your training. Everyone who went to school for something related to instructional design is nodding in agreement, probably saying “Duh.” But not everyone tasked with training has that background, and all too often we can put the cart before the horse by diving into training before we’ve clearly defined what we want to achieve.

The Questions You Need to Ask

Before you can design any eLearning course, any blended curriculum, any game, you need to ask these four questions:

  1. What do I want my target learners to know?
  2. What do I want them to do?
  3. What do I want them to believe?
  4. What mistakes do I want them to avoid?

From these questions you can determine goals for your learners, and consequently the goals for your training design. But answering these questions will only give you the ore, the trick is refining it into steel. Knowing that you want your learners to be safer when they operate a forklift in the warehouse is a good start, but “being safer” isn’t a performance objective.

To Write A Meaningful Performance Objective You Need to Get S.M.A.R.T.

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Since the 1980’s, the term “S.M.A.R.T.” has been used to sum up the criterion for solid objectives. S.M.A.R.T. objectives are:

Specific

Specific is self-explanatory, but incredibly important. Think of the 5 W’s when aiming for this criterion: Who, What, When, Where, and Why? Instead of saying “Improve the safety of forklift operations,” you should instead say “Forklift operators should be able to complete our ten point safety checklist before daily operations.”

Think about your performance objectives as driving directions for training. If you were following someone’s directions when driving to their house, you would want them to be very clear and specific. Instead of “go about a mile past the gas station and turn left” you want it to say “turn left at the second light past the Speedway, Rosewood Drive.”

Measurable

You can sum up the ‘Measurable’ criterion with one question: How will I measure success? You’ll quickly notice that these criteria are all interconnected, because having a measurable objective is directly related to having a specific objective. It is easy to measure whether or not forklift operators know and are doing their 10 point safety checklist. It is much harder to measure whether forklift operators are just generally acting safer.

Attainable

Attainable speaks to how realistic the objective is. No matter how great your writing is, it won’t be realistic to expect an employee to know the ins and outs of a brand new product in the medical field from a 30 minute text-and-next course. Be realistic with your objectives and plan your training accordingly. The more things you need learners to know, do, believe, and avoid, the more expansive your learning solution will need to be.

Relevant

Is this objective relevant to the goal, the company, the position? If the target learner completes this objective, will they be closer to what you want them to know, do, believe, or avoid? Also, be mindful of whether or not this is the right time for this objective. It would not be relevant to put deep-dive material into an onboarding course—even if that deep drive material is important to the position.

Time-bound

The last criterion is all about setting a timeframe for your objectives. We all know first hand that if you don’t set a date, you will lose focus and will be way less likely to get it done. Setting a target date creates a sense of urgency, which will hopefully stop these objectives from being constantly pushed aside in favor of the day-to-day workload—a target date can make them part of the day-to-day workload.

Bloom’s Taxonomy and Action Verbs

A quick tip that can dramatically improve your performance objectives is to always associate them with action verbs. Using action verbs like “identify,” “explain,” or “define” will naturally guide your objective to something specific and measurable. You can use Bloom’s Taxonomy to help you select appropriate verbs to include in your objectives. For example, “become aware of” is much less effective than “identify.”

Remember, the objectives you write will guide the entirety of your training. So take them seriously, get S.M.A.R.T.—and if you need help along the way, contact us. We’ve been writing great performance objectives since 1995.