Discovering Instructional Design 6: Developing Objectives

Continuing this E-Learning Curve Blog series on Instructional Design. In this article, I’m going to discuss (1) Describing the Target Audience, and (2) Objectives Writing.

Target Audience Description

The Target Audience Description describes the key characteristics of the learners that you’re designing instruction for. It assists in the selection of objectives, examples, terminology, typical work practices, and cultural issues.

Typical headings include:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Culture – organizational / ethnic / socio-economic
  • First and other languages
  • Education
  • Existing skills and skill sets
  • Professional and life experience
  • Values
  • Motivators
  • Interests
  • Taboos
  • Current job
  • Career history

An effective approach to elicit this information is to ask the SME to describe someone he knows who would be a typical audience member: what kinds of things would that person relate, react, and respond to?

Understanding organizational culture is important from the perspective of gaining learner acceptance when developing customized training.  The instructional designer should find out about vocabulary/argot, typical topics of conversation, clichés, conversation buzzwords, TLAs, corporate beliefs, do’s and don’ts, examples of successful and unsuccessful people and performance; speed of organizational feedback, and symbols (logos, mission statement, mottos etc).  Considering these factors will help paint a realistic picture of the people in the examples, scenarios and problems covered in the learning program.

Similarly (and particularly in e-learning and web-based training) there will likely be a need for a visual depiction of the audience profile – age, sex and particularly dress code (i.e. customer-facing organizations typically wear formal business clothes or uniforms, clean room production workers bunny suit).

Objectives Writing

Objectives are the key learning outcomes desired from the instruction. They emerge from the previous analyses – performance, task, and goal – to provide the objectives that learners need to have mastered to perform the associated tasks competently. Classically, instructional objectives have three elements: conditions, performance, and standards (see Table 1):

Table 1 Instructional Objectives

“Given that you are in a high-pressure job,


reduce workplace stress


and lower your blood pressure by 10%”


It’s quite common to find aims disguised as objectives in training materials. However, there is a fundamental difference between the two.  Broadly speaking, we can say that an aim (or goal) is a general statement of intent. silicon chipThey are not especially helpful for deciding an appropriate (1) teaching strategy or (2) assessment procedures.

Examples of aims include:

•    An awareness of the types of breakdowns electric motors are  prone to.
•    An understanding of how silicon chips are produced.
•    An appreciation of potential hazards in an industrial plant.

Objectives are precise: both learner and instructor know exactly what is required to master the learning activity. An example of an aim translated into an objective might read as follows:

The learner will, without using reference materials, draw and label accurately a use case which shows all the stages involved in a human-computer interaction.


chip etching tool

A performance of any kind will always have important conditions surrounding it. The nearer these conditions can be to the actual work situation, the more accurate the objective will be.  For example, it is one thing for a worker to be able to repair a piece of  equipment in a workshop with every sort of tool available, but quite another to expect him to repair the same piece of equipment somewhere on-site, far from home base.

Conditions must be realistic.  Learners must be asked to carry out the performance objectives under normal conditions. For example, use the Hitachi Chip Etching Tool to set as a condition ‘using an electric drill’, would be pointless (and irrelevant) if there was no silicon blank, no fabrication facility, or the person concerned did not have a cleanroom space suit.


A statement of actual performance is of primary importance, and is central to writing of good objectives. This performance must be an observable action of some kind. Words and phrase such as “understand,” “appreciate,” “feel a sense of pride,” “know,” “feel deeply about,” are irrelevant when deciding learning objectives. If you have any doubt about the appropriateness of a verb to describe a performance, simply place the phrase “Watch me…” at the beginning of a sentence containing the verb.

For example,

  • Watch me appreciate this silicon chip processor core (!)


  • Watch me etch this 45 nanometer silicon chip processor core.

It’s obvious which is the observable performance (answer at the bottom of the page*).


When developing courseware, instructional designers must consider the level or standard of the performance – how well must it be done?

For example a performance objective describing an  activity relating to some aspect of workplace safety demands a 100% standard. If a serious accident occurs, an employee won’t get a second chance to do the task more carefully.

Just as the conditions need to be defined with real, everyday situations in mind, so too do the standards. When setting the standard for an objective, always consider the level of performance required in that particular situation.

*(the second one)

Next Time: Objectives Analysis