4 Tips To Use Criterion Referenced Instruction Principles In Online Training

4 Tips To Use Criterion Referenced Instruction Principles Ιn Online Training
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Summary: Criterion Referenced Instruction, or CRI, is an approach that centers on multimedia-rich, self-guided learning experiences. Its four-stage process offers Instructional Designers the opportunity to create targeted online training courses that produce measurable results. This makes it highly effective in the corporate eLearning sector. In this article, I'll show you how to apply it in your online training program.

How To Use Criterion Referenced Instruction In Online Training

Robert Mager was the first to introduce the Criterion Referenced Instruction methodologies [1], which pertains to the development and deployment of online training initiatives. CRI-based online training courses are typically self-paced and consist of a wide range of media resources, from interactive scenarios to dynamic presentations. Corporate learners are asked to participate in an online training module or activity and then take an online assessment upon completion to gauge their proficiency. As such, this approach is ideal for performance management online training courses, as it allows employees to take control of the online training experience and pursue their own professional goals.

Criterion Referenced Instruction Principles

Criterion Referenced Instruction consists of five primary principles that should be present in all online training experiences, which are:

  1. The online training objectives directly relate to workplace performance, including the skills and knowledge that employees must acquire. Furthermore, these objectives must link to verifiable criterion, hence the name of this Instructional Design process.
  2. Employees are only required to develop skills that align with the online training objectives and are not expected to surpass the level that is set forth by the overall online training criteria. For example, if the online training goals require that they improve their proficiency of a specific task, simulations and online scenarios might be used to ensure that they’ve mastered all of the steps involved.
  3. Employees must get the opportunity to apply and practice all of the online training objectives, as well as receive feedback regarding the level of their performance.
  4. Corporate learners must be able to repeat skill-based online training in order to maintain their level of proficiency, particularly when these skills are to be used on a regular basis, or they are challenging. An example of this would be a refresher online training course that would allow them to apply the skills they’ve learned to improve retention rates.
  5. Employees have the power to progress at their own pace and complete the online training modules in random order. However, there should be a set of guidelines or constraints based on online training prerequisites. For example, a corporate learner who is able to display that they have achieved the objectives or mastered a skill would be able to move to the next level.

The Criterion Referenced Instructional Design Process

This instructional design approach consists of a 4-phase process that allows eLearning professionals to identify the goals and objectives before developing the online training activities and modules:

  1. Identify Goals
    This involves identifying the needs of your corporate learners, as well as the overall needs of the organization. It may consist of a task analysis, skills assessments, interviews, workplace observations, surveys, and a wide range of other diagnostic tools. If you are designing the online training course for a client, now is the time to sit down with them and learn as much as you can about their expectations, goals, and the shortcomings of their current online training program. You can also enlist the aid of a Subject Matter Expert who can help you determine the key takeaways of your online training course.
  2. Determine Outcomes and Criteria
    After you've identified the goals you are ready to move onto the pivotal step in the Criterion Referenced Instruction design process, which is developing the criteria itself. You must also determine the desired outcomes of your online training program, so that you can then decide how each outcome will be achieved and measured. All of your primary objectives should be verifiable in order to align with the Criterion Referenced Instruction approach. For this reason, soft skill online training is typically not a good fit because it is difficult to measure the outcome. An example of effective online training criteria is setting specific revenue goals that your sales team must reach after they've completed the online training course. Be as detailed as possible when creating your core objectives and let employees know exactly how their performance will be evaluated.
  3. Testing Based on the Criterion
    Speaking of evaluation, the next step in the process is testing your employees based on the criterion you've developed. It's crucial that you identify how you will conduct the testing and the frequency that your employees will be evaluated beforehand. Also, each of the eLearning assessments must pertain to the specific knowledge, skills, and performance gaps that you identified, in addition to your online training objectives. Task assessments, on-the-job observations, serious games, branching scenarios, and simulations are just some of the testing methods you can utilize. In some cases, the testing process may involve Big Data and statistics. For example, your customer service online training may require consumer surveys and focus groups that focus on customer satisfaction and loyalty rates.
  4. Development in accordance with objectives
    Up to this point you have been in the research and planning stages of the design process. Now it's time to actually start developing the online training activities and modules based on the objectives and goals you've created. This involves designing the online training course layout, text-based online training content, multimedia components, and all other aspects of your online training program. Once you’ve created a rough draft, or a learner prototype, you are ready to conduct user testing in order to iron out any glitches that may hinder its effectiveness.

Criterion Referenced Instruction is particularly effective when self-governing, motivated employees are involved. Therefore, it’s best to cultivate a strong online training culture within your organization in order to emphasize the importance of skill development and task mastery. Also, remind your employees early and often of the many benefits that active participation can provide.

Are you still unsure about whether your employees are ready to make the leap to online training? Read the article 6 Tell-Tale Signs That Your Employees Are Ready For Online Training to learn about signs that you may want to look for that your employees are ready for online training.


  1. Criterion Referenced Instruction (Robert Mager)