Write Clear Objectives

How Training and Education Can Have an Impact on Your Business

Write Clear Objectives

The Issue around Training and Education

You invest millions of dollars in development of a new product. Your sales force needs to know the features and benefits to your customers so they can sell it. Your service group needs to know how to support it to ensure customer satisfaction. Your customers need to know how to use it. The need for training is obvious.

You buy a new software system to improve your business processes. Say it’s an ERP system you pay several millions dollars to license and install. Would you not train your entire enterprise on its use? Would you realize a pay back on the system quickly if you didn’t do training?

Your company must meet federal and state compliance requirements. What fines and other penalties do you risk if you don’t do the required training? Does the training communicate and reinforce the content that the government requires?

Training, and education, have a bottom line impact on your business. Doubters beware. If you don’t support your sales force, service group, and customers you risk wasting all the other investments you’ve made.

The question this paper wants to address is how training and education can be effective. Corporate training and education is a business itself worth many billions of dollars a year. Since this training can have a positive impact and is costly shouldn’t it be as effective as possible?

Colleagues of mine wanted me to address the question of training’s impact on the business and what makes training effective. They sent me numerous references to studies that attempt to show the ROI of training. They also referenced the numerous discussions of Kirkpatrick’s levels of learning assessment. This is all good but I say let’s go back to the very basics.

This discussion will be around Kirkpatrick’s Level 2. What did the person who participated in the training learn? If the trainee or student didn’t learn something then the training wasn’t effective and wasn’t worth any price paid for it.

Stating the Problem

Let me take the general issue of training effectiveness and put it in the context of a fairly specific problem. Among other responsibilities I manage a group that administers a catalog of continuing professional education (CPE) for certified public accountants (CPAs). To certify the courses for CPE we are approved as a Sponsor by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA). As a Sponsor we must review courses and verify that they follow established instructional design principles including clearly stated learning objectives that the participant demonstrates competency in by passing a final examination on the content.

Recently NASBA reviewed several of the courses in our library and pointed out that the final examination was not testing the objectives. I looked at the courses and had to agree. The objectives as stated were not tested. This led me to look at all the courses in the library. I found many cases where objectives were poorly formulated and not even capable of being tested by the training mode being used.

The general problem around training effectiveness is that if you don’t begin with clear learning objectives then the trainee can’t possibly know what they will learn. How can demonstrate competency in the training and how can they apply it on the job. They may be successful but it will be in spite of the training, not because of the training.


An important part of the instructional design process is selecting the proper training mode to teach the identified objectives. For example, if you want someone to operate a high speed laser printer or perform maintenance on a specific motorcycle model, the best training experience is going to be hands-on completion of training and the ultimate assessment will be a hands-on exercise. If you want a sales person to demo or a product or make a presentation, the best training will present them with models and ultimately test them by asking the student to complete a demo or a presentation.

However, in many instances the mode of training is decided by training budgets and availability of learners for training. The default in many cases currently is to create an online, self-study training program delivered remotely to the learner through a learning management system. If a self-study mode is used the evaluation is then limited to the types of testing items can be developed in the self-study format. Here the default is to go with multiple choice, true/false, and maybe fill-in-the-blank or matching test items. In a self-study format it is impossible to test most high-level application objectives especially if the default testing items most commonly used are indeed used.

In the aforementioned accounting courses learning objectives were stated that could not possibly be tested in the learning mode being used.

Consider the following three learning objectives:

· Describe a typical merger and acquisition (M&A) deal process from beginning to end
· Describe our company’s M&A Transaction Services’ approach to due diligence and adding value for our clients
· Design and conduct procedures that address common accounting and tax due diligence focus areas, including quality of earnings, quality of assets, exposures, working capital, tax risks, and cash flows for a typical target company.

Let’s disregard for the moment that these are not really well-written learning objectives. Let’s just look at the action verbs in the objectives: describe, design, and conduct. Can these be tested in a self-study course? Maybe if the correct type of assessment was used. Nearly impossible if a multiple choice test is used.

If these objectives are presented to the learner at the beginning of a course as what they will learn in the course how will they know if they achieved these objectives? How will we as the developer know if the content presented and reinforced in the course was effectively communicated?

If these three objectives are really the behavior we want the learner to exhibit on the job then we need to select a training mode that allows them to be tested. The self-study course can cover enabling objectives like:

· Identify the steps in a typical merger and acquisition process
· List our company’s M&A services
· Recognize our company’s approach to due diligence
· Given a case study example recognize the correct procedure for determining quality of assets.

And so forth.

The online course needs to be supplemented with other learning activities to achieve the original objectives as stated. In short, a blended learning mode can be used here but not a standalone self-study.

Let’s consider another example that is completely different. Consider the following objectives for a course in using the UNIX operating system for a sales engineer.

At the completion of this course, the student will be able to:

· Complete the procedures, programs, and files involved in the system startup and shutdown of an UNIX System.
· Use the command line tools that are available with UNIX.
· Utilize the standard UNIX system commands to obtain status information on users, files, and processes.
· Identify the UNIX configuration and the device names subordinate to the /dev directory.
· Demonstrate how to use a disk array to help manage and maximize the performance and availability of disks in a UNIX system through the use of virtual disks.
· Configure and manage the system swap space.
· Configure and manage the dump space for the system.
· Explain the Version Migration and Fallback (VM&F) features available on systems running a UNIX RAS.
· Describe the concept of disk arrays and the advantages and disadvantages of the six primary RAID modes.
· Use basic network communication commands and techniques.

In a self-study course the learner could not complete processes, use tools, do configurations, or describe anything unless the course was a very complex simulation. In a classroom hands-on course with computer labs the objectives can be practiced and demonstrated.

We want our learners to be able to do something that has a business impact when they complete a training course. If this is our ultimate goal we need to begin by clearly defining the tasks and behaviors that will have that impact and then test the learner to be sure that the objectives have been achieved. We need to consider what objectives can be addressed by various training modes. We need to select the mode based on the objectives and be realistic about what can be achieved.

It All Goes Back to Instructional Design 101

If a business follows basic principles of instructional design in the development of training and education programs the programs can have a positive impact on the operation of the business.

· You have to start with what a group of employees or customers need to know. Identify the population to be trained and complete a task analysis of what they need to know around the product or process.
· Construct a learning objective hierarchy that provides the chained tasks or behaviors to prepare them to complete the tasks.
· Provide assessment items that measure the achievement of the objectives.

These steps will insure that the training or education program has desired outcome. If you do not have clear objectives you do not have clear outcomes.

Of course, in the development of any program the affective components of the process have to be considered. Will the program engage learners? Will they see the relationship between the program and ultimate on-the-job activity? That is the subject of another white paper.