You've analyzed the client's needs. The client's goals are clearly defined. You've assessed where the client is currently, relative to those goals. In other words, you've identified the performance gap that training is supposed to close. Oh, and of course, you've determined that training is in fact an appropriate way to close that gap.
Once the scope of your project is clearly defined, you march ahead to identify the performance objectives for the training. This isn't the same as drafting up an outline of topics to include in training. Performance objectives are more specific. These objectives are a list of observable behaviors that learners should be able to perform upon the completion of training. Unlike a basic topical outline, these objectives create specific expectations for which everyone involved in the project is accountable.
If you have a formal background in training, the concept of performance objectives is nothing new. However, many of the training folks I know moved into training-related positions without a formal background in the field. Not a bad thing by any means...these folks bring a fresh perspective and other varied talents to the table. But a crash course in performance objectives could be helpful (for all of us really, even as a review). So here we go!
How do performance objectives enhance accountability?
As explained earlier, a training outline of performance objectives allows for more specific accountability than a training outline of topics. This accountability applies to the instructional designer, the learners, the managers...and well, just about everyone involved in the project.
Consider the comparison below. This example is taken from a segment of an e-learning lesson about handling customer complaints. The audience consists of customer care representatives in a call center environment for a beauty product company.
|#||Topical Outline||Performance Objectives|
|1||Probing questions||Given a customer complaint and a job aid, correctly identify three probing questions to ask to learn more the nature of the complaint.|
|2||Resolving complaints||Given a customer complaint and a job aid, recommend an appropriate resolution for the complaint.|
|3||Documenting complaints||Given a customer complaint and the processing system, complete all required fields to document the complaint within 60 seconds.|
While the topics on the left give you a general sense of what will be covered in training, the objectives on the right give you specific targets for developing focused presentations, meaningful practice activities, relevant assessments, and straight-forward on-the-job evaluations.
How does this enhance accountability?
- An instructional designer is accountable for ensuring that those specific behaviors are practiced and assessed during training. If learners cannot perform these objectives on the job, it can be relatively easy to determine whether specific behaviors were thoroughly covered during training.
- A learner that performs a specific behavior in a specific way in training can generally be expected to repeat that behavior in that way on the job.
- A manager that is aligned with the performance objectives should know exactly what to observe in employees in order to provide the on-the-job coaching needed to reinforce training.
Now let's dissect a performance objective.
The work of Robert Mager is often referenced when discussing performance objectives. In following Mager's model, an objective should consist of three elements: conditions, behavior, and criterion.
- Definition: The circumstances under which the behavior will be performed on the job.
- Example: What resources are available to the learner? Objective #1 suggests that the learner will have access to a job aid to help identify probing questions based on the complaint. Objective #3 suggests that the learner will have to use the processing system to document the complaint.
- So What?: You need to identify on-the-job conditions in order to simulate those conditions during training. If a learner is expected to access a job aid on the job, then the learner should be prompted to access and interpret that job aid repeatedly in training (rather than duplicating that information on the slides of the e-learning lesson). If a learner is expected to complete a procedure in a computer system, then a scenario-based simulation of that procedure is an ideal instructional activity.
- Definition: The observable behavior that must be performed on the job.
- Example: Objective #1 involves correctly identifying probing questions. Note that this objective does not address the soft skill of how to ask the question (e.g., tone of voice, transitioning to the question, etc.). It simply addresses how to identify the questions to be asked. Choose your words with precision; the verb chosen to represent the behavior (in this case, "identify") should accurately represent the behavior that must be performed.
- So What?: Defining the behavior with precision is critical, as this will drive how assessments and on-the-job evaluations are designed. While how probing questions are asked is important, the intent of this objective is to ensure that the learner can correctly identify what questions to ask. Therefore, there should be practice activities and assessment questions to specifically target this during training.
- Definition: The standards that must be met when performing the behavior.
- Example: Should the behavior be completed within a certain amount of time (as in Objective #3)? Should it be completed in compliance with a particular law? Or with a specified level of accuracy? In all three objectives above, a 100% accuracy level is implied. When this is the case, it may not be necessary to explicitly state "with 100% accuracy" in the objective.
- So What?: Performance criteria should guide the type of feedback a learner receives during practice activities and how assessments are scored. For instance, a simulation intended to assess Objective #3 should be timed. Feedback should not only comment on the learner's ability to perform the behavior accurately, but also on the amount of time taken to complete the behavior.
Let's take a look at how these pieces are combined in Objective #3.
Given a customer complaint and the processing system [conditions], complete all required fields to document the complaint [behavior] within 60 seconds [criterion].
Writing precise performance objectives may be more time-consuming than drafting a topical outline; however, this exercise is well worth the time investment. Since the elements of these objectives drive the design of instructional activities and assessments, the time spent on this step should easily be made up by the time saved later when developing instructional activities and assessments.