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Tim Cliffe - Blog

Learning Objectives Were Not Intended For Learners

01 Target Audience

(01.1) Anyone involved in the specification of learning resource content, and especially eLearning resources.

02 Executive Summary

(02.1) This article provides a brief explanation of the reason learning objectives were never intended for learners, the unnecessary cognitive load imposed by presenting learning objectives to learners, and the benefits of using learning objectives in the manner originally intended.

03 Structure of This Article

  • (04) Introduction
  • (05) Lost In The Sands Of Time
  • (06) Based Upon Experience
  • (07) The Reasoning
  • (08) The Consequences
  • (09) The Solution
Image of Dr. Benjamin Bloom.

04 Introduction

(04.1) Educational learning objectives came to the fore following the publication of Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (1956): Cognitive Skills.


(04.2) Those within the education industry know all about learning objectives, and how SMART they are:


(04.3) Practitioners, within eLearning, are very familiar with including objectives, in multi-media resources, and presenting them to the learner.

05 Lost In The Sands Of Time

(05.1) What appears to have been lost, in the decades since 1956, is the fact the identification of such objectives, by Bloom, was intended as a framework (taxonomy) for teachers, in the development of teaching resources, not learners.

06 Based Upon Experience

(06.1) I have never, personally, encountered a teacher who started a lesson by saying...
"By the end of this lesson, you will be able to: Explain X; List Y; Describe Z."
Further, during discussions with numerous colleagues, over many years, I have not found one with a different experience to my own.

07 The Reasoning

(07.1) The reason for this agreement is simple. Learners, be they students or employees, do not start with the premise...
"I need to be able to explain X, list Y, and describe Z."
Learners start with...
"I need to know how to do 'something'."


Consequently, teachers are more likely to begin a lesson by saying...
"Today, we are going to learn how to..."


(07.2) The simple fact is, if the learner already knows they need to be able to explain X, list Y, and describe Z, they must already possess sufficient knowledge of the material to understand they have such a need. This in turn may well require a revision of the objectives.


(07.3) If we now start with such revised objectives, and return to 07.1 above, we find ourselves, potentially, trapped within a circular argument.

08 The Consequences

08.1 Learning Objectives

(08.1.1) The inclusion of learning objectives has a knock-on effect for the learner and the 'lesson':
  • The additional, and unnecessary, cognitive load, imposed upon a learner, when presented with learning objectives;
  • The 'Objectives' screen adds one further screen to the 'lesson' the developers must spend time and money producing, reviewing, and maintaining. This may represent a significant overhead where courses have many 'lessons';

08.2 Contents Page

(08.2.1) An indirect consequence is the closely allied, and common, practice of presenting the learner with a Contents page (often based on the learning objectives). Why?


(08.2.2) Users of on-line instructional materials know they will be presented with a menu, and even if they don't, a Menu Button presents an obvious indication.


(08.2.3) The Menu lists the 'contents' of the lesson. What is the purpose of having two lists of the same information? Doing so results in the need to ensure both lists are identical, with the resultant overhead of review and maintenance, not to mention yet another, and unnecessary, cognitive load imposed upon the learner.


(08.2.4) Further, a Menu is locationally and interactively contextual to the learner's experience of their position within the 'lesson', whereas a Contents page is not.


(08.2.5) Those familiar with the issues relating to data integrity will be well aware, the practice of having multiple independent copies of the same information is an undesirable, and avoidable, threat to data validity and consistency.

09 The Solution

Image of road through highland with road marking 'START'.


(09.1) Let us dispense with presenting learning objectives to the learner (and Contents pages):
  1. Learners are not in a position to develop the material that will teach what they need to know;
  2. Learners can do without the unnecessary additional cognitive load imposed by Objectives and Contents pages;
  3. eLearning practitioners will:
    • Develop more effective materials resulting from the absence of '2' above;
    • Save time and money in the development of resources;
    • Increase the accuracy of information presented to learners.
(09.2) Let us start by presenting learners with a succinct introduction to the 'lesson', about the 'something' they need to know, developed with the teacher's learning objectives in mind.

Use of this Article

Any part, or all, of this article may be linked-to or copied for non-commercial purposes. Any linked or copied content to include the following...


Learning Objectives Were Not Intended For Learners by Tim Cliffe © 1997-2020.


Where use will be for commercial purposes, seek authorisation, including details of proposed use, via the Contact page.


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