Aims, objectives and learning outcomes: What’s the difference?
When it comes to planning eLearning courses, some will start with devising their aims, objectives or learning outcomes. However, others will put these off because of the ambiguity over what they are, or the difference between the three.
Understanding the difference between an aim, an objective and an outcome will help you get started.
Aims give a general statement about the piece of learning. It defines the purpose and direction for the course we are developing. We can then use this aim to give the learner the ‘big picture’ about what to expect from the learning content. An aim does not state what the learner will learn or do. But, the will aim help the learner to decide on whether to take the course or not. So, we need to keep it brief, succinct and an accurate illustration of the course content.
The aim you write at the start of your learning design process may not be the aim that your course goes live with. Revisit your aim throughout your development process and update it to ensure it represents the final course.
Objectives describe what you want your learners to achieve by completing your piece of learning. They give details of each element the learner will have covered and mastered by the time they finish the course. Therefore, your objectives should be specific and measurable and appropriate for learners.
A key consideration for writing your objectives is to ensure they’re about the content from the authors perspective. Your objectives are the steps your learners take towards reaching their end goal.
Outcomes are an alternative to objectives, but they provide a learner-focused approach to learning. Instead of listing the steps learners will take towards mastery; outcomes define what the learners can expect of themselves after mastery. So, a learning outcome is the skill the learner will master post-learning. Taking the time to clearly think through your learning outcomes will give you a checklist for your course design. And ultimately aid with planning eLearning development.
Your outcomes may not cover everything the learner gets from the course; it may just be the key elements. Learners are often demanding and varied, with a huge range of experience and knowledge. So we write our outcomes to suit the many, making no assumptions about our audience.
So, you now have a clear definition of aims, objectives and outcomes, and understand the difference between each. The next time your faced with the task of planning eLearning; you’ll see aims, objectives and outcomes as an aid to development, rather than a daunting minefield.