Learning Objectives Or Learning Outcomes?

Learning Objectives Or Learning Outcomes?
Summary: Developing a learner-centric eLearning course involves sophisticated steps, from the drafting the course objectives to the final knowledge assessment. In this journey, a simple yet important question arises: "should I use 'learning objectives' or 'learning outcomes'?" The simple answer is, it depends.

Are Learning Objectives And Learning Outcomes The Same Thing?

Learning objectives or learning outcomes, as we know, are a crucial part of any course, irrespective of the mode of training. They advise the learner on what they can expect from the course, and how the course will enhance their knowledge and upgrade their skills to the next level. Though both terms are used interchangeably, they convey different meanings and should be used for different purposes. “Are they different?”, is a question that may arise, to which the answer is a huge "yes!" If you asked "how?", here’s the explanation.

Differentiating Objectives From Outcomes

First, let’s understand what "objective" means in the context of learning. The term "objective" refers to the prime goal for performing a task, similar to a board meeting’s major objective being to discuss the company’s performance, or a training’s prime objective being to share knowledge and enhance the employees’ skills. The term "outcome", meanwhile, implies the end result of a task performed. While performance improvement planning is the key outcome of a board meeting, the enhancement of a learner’s skills and knowledge is the outcome of the training. They may sound alike and seem to convey similar meanings, but actually, they are not. They do not resemble each other, though they are related.

Let’s flip our perspective and view these terms in a different way. You are on a task, let’s say a project to deliver an eLearning course to a client within three days. The task clearly conveys that you will be delivering the project within three days of time. So, to meet the target, you’ll break down the task into subtasks and plan them according to the prescribed timeline. This planning is made on a few assumptions, information, and considerations. The end result may or may not be as planned. You might complete the task within two-thirds of the planned timing, or you might complete the task as per the planned schedule with better quality than anticipated, and so on. Here, the planned features that you expect at the end of the project are the objectives, and the final result that you expect is the outcome.

Once the difference between the terms is realized, it becomes much easier to use the proper term at the right place to convey anticipated intentions to the learner. Here’s a quick suggestion on these two terms:

  • Objective
    This term should be used when the learner needs to know what the course is intended for. Accordingly, the learning objectives should be drafted in a manner that enables the learner to easily comprehend what they can expect from the course. This enables the learner to check if the course they are going to take up is in-line with the learner’s expectations and requirements. Any objective that does not match the learner’s requirement proves to be worthless and time-consuming rather than beneficial (i.e., the learner cannot become an expert when they take up a rudimentary course, and vice versa).
  • Outcome
    The outcomes are to be drafted in such a way that they directly convey to the learner what they will achieve from the course. While the learning objectives focus on the end result from the course’s perspective, the learning outcomes emphasize the aspects a learner receives from a learner's perspective. Moreover, drafting an outcome-based course proves to be more beneficial and appropriate to the learner and their requirements.

Quite confusing, right? Well, this topic may seem subtle and exaggerated, however, ensuring the use of proper words to convey the exact meaning is important, especially when the learner’s employment and skillset relies on the course which they are going to take up.

It might seem overwhelming while trying to figure out which term is to be used for what. However, it becomes easy when the choice is made based on the intention of the course. If the prime motive of the course is to implant knowledge in the learner, choosing "learning objective" as the title will suffice, and if the learner’s skill or attitude is to be enhanced through the course, it is obvious to focus on the outcome rather than the process of learning or training.

Final Word

In its entirety, an eLearning course is a cluster of several individual parts, which individually and collectively play a crucial role in the effectiveness and success of the course. Neglecting even a single element can end with the entire course going offtrack.

eBook Release: Self-E e-Learning
Self-E e-Learning
Team of Professional Instructional Designers, e-Learning Developers & Graphic Designers, with experience in developing courses for companies from various domains.