Aims? Objectives? Learning Outcomes? What’s the difference?

Justine Swain | 08/14/2018

When you have been tasked with the design and development of learning materials, where do you start? Do you plan out your aims and objectives? Do you define your learning outcomes? Or do you put these off because you are never quite sure what they are, or what the difference is?

As a learning designer, you are sometimes in the position where you are designing a piece of learning on a subject you know nothing about. You must upskill quickly to gain an understanding of the content, and to gain insight into why you are developing the course. The minefield of putting your aims, objectives or outcomes together is waiting…

Understanding the difference between an aim, an objective and an outcome will help you get started.

  • Aims

    We use aims to 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 is more about the purpose of the learning, and what it is trying to achieve.

    The aim helps 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 fully reflect the course as it evolves through the stages of your development process.
  • Objectives

    We use objectives to describe what you want your learners to achieve by completing your piece of learning. Our objectives need to be clearly defined to give details of the elements that learners will have covered and hopefully mastered by the time they complete the course. Make your objectives specific and measurable but keep them appropriate for your audience.

    One key consideration for objectives is the fact that they are very much about the content being covered and are from the authors perspective. They are the steps the learner is taking towards the end goal. 
  • Learning Outcomes

    We use learning outcomes instead of objectives, to provide a learner-focused approach to our learning design. So instead of using objectives to list what a learner will be taught during the course, we use learning outcomes to define what a learner can expect of themselves when they reach the end of the course and any assessments.

    If we consider this in its simplest form, a learning outcome is the skills and/or knowledge the learner should be able to demonstrate upon course completion. Taking the time to clearly think through your learning outcomes will give you a checklist for your course design.

    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.

    Your learners will appreciate outcomes which give them a clear picture of what to expect.

So, you now have a clear definition of aims, objectives and outcomes, and understand the difference between each. So hopefully the next time your faced with the task of writing your aims, objectives or outcomes for an eLearning course it’ll seem like a simple task to aid in your development, rather than a daunting minefield.

Justine Swain

Instructional Designer at Omniplex

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