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Discovering Instructional Design 7: Objectives Analysis

As I’ve discussed in previous posts, an important element in the instructional design process is the identification of learner entry behaviors and objectives analysis. It is critical to the instructional development process that designers understand what skills, knowledge and experience their learners need to bring to the education process. In the area of skills and behaviors, it is important for the designer to identify them before producing the instructional materials. The pre-attained skills required of learners to begin the a learning program are called entry behaviors.

With that in mind, there are several valuable techniques used to analyze the objectives the ID has develop. I will cover three approaches today.

Now read on…

1. Hierarchical Objectives Analysis

These are diagrams or tables showing the dependency relationships between the objectives, so that it becomes clear which objectives must be learned before others are attempted.

The hierarchical approach is used to analyze goals that are identified as being intellectual or psychomotor skills. It’s purpose is to identify the foundational knowledge or rules that need to be taught/learned before the subsequent steps are taught.Subordinate skills are analyzed and then those skills are further analyzed. Hierarchical objectives analysis is a top down model (see Figure 1), where each lower step supports the skills required by the steps above it.

Hierarchical Objectives Analysis Table

Figure 1 Hierarchical Objectives Analysis Table

The IS should ask the following questions:

  • What does the learner need to know in order to accomplish this step?
  • What mistake might a learner make in completing this step?

2. Grouping or Clustering

Sometimes objectives are too small to cover one at a time. In this case, they may be grouped into higher units, whether called “lessons”, “topics” or “modules”. As an aside this leads on to one of the great ongoing debates in learning: what constitutes a learning object / lesson / section / module? As you will know if you design learning and development programs for a range of  training institutions, corporations, and public organizations, each of them uses a terminology when delineating the same (or similar) discrete units of learning content. But I digress.

When clustering is indicated, a useful guideline may be to distinguish between enabling and terminal objectives.  An enabling objective usually forms part of a subset of objectives that collectively enable the learner to demonstrate a terminal objective, which can be described as the key behaviors, skills, or performances a learner has acquired and can undertake at the end of a course. For example, if the objective involves changing an bicycle wheel, then enabling objectives for this would be using a spanner, unhooking the chain, preparing the patch, and so on. Table 1 is an extract from a time management course: 

Table 1 Example of Clustered Objectives for a Time Management Course

TopicChallengeObjectiveOutcome
1. Define your DreamsA. Time flies – where?Assess your use of the resource of timeProduce life and work objectives that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound (SMART)
B. ‘Dumb’ dreams to ‘SMART’ goalsIdentify guidelines for defining goals
2. Remove your BarriersA. ProcrastinationIdentify guidelines to combat procrastinationMinimize the effects of the three most critical time wasters in work and life
B. PeopleIdentify guidelines to minimize interruptions from people
C. PerfectionIdentify guidelines to control a tendency toward perfectionism
3. Achieve your GoalsA. PrioritizeList the steps in converting goals into prioritized tasksSuccessfully achieve key tasks that are prioritized accurately and scheduled realistically
B. ScheduleList guidelines for effective scheduling
C. ImplementList guidelines for successfully implementing a prioritized and scheduled task list

3. DIF Objectives Analysis

In a DIF analysis, the objective (or groups of objectives) are analyzed in terms of difficulty, importance and frequency.

  • Difficulty: the simpler the skill to be taught the better. All skills are not equal so for each we need a measure of complexity. One common measure is Bloom’s Taxonomy which rates skill complexity from 1 (knowledge) through to 6 (evaluation).
  • Importance:  No matter how often a skill is used, or how difficult it is, we have to ask how important that skill is to performance. A taught skill may not be used very often by the learner but it could be crucial to that learner’s job. Conversely, other skills may require constant use and re-use but may be less important in overall competency terms.
  • Frequency: this simply measures how often an objective will be performed.

All three categories above can be rated on a scale of 1 – 5 from easy to hard, infrequent to frequent, less to more important and so on. Table 2 shows how a completed DIF analysis might look.

Table 2 Sample DIF Analysis

Terminal ObjectiveEnabling ObjectivesDiff.Imp.Freq.
Create Better Business DocumentsDetermine who your readers are155
Draft your document245
Write an effective letter455
Revise your writing355

Prerequisites Identification

These describe what learners must be able to do before they start the course.  These are often defined in terms of skills, knowledge and attitude (SKAs). When you subtract the student’s previously-learned SKAs  from the list of objectives, the remaining SKAs are the objectives that will need to be covered in the learning program.

Next Time: Developing Material for Learning Programs

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