How To Write Soft Skills Learning Objectives

Best Practices For Writing Soft Skills Learning Objectives

Writing learning objectives for soft skills (aka business skills) can be difficult if we aren’t sure what it is we are looking for in learner behavior. For example, it is easy to know if a learner can successfully complete a procedure with clearly delineated steps. But what does it mean to “show leadership” or “communicate clearly” when we aren’t even sure what “leadership” and “clear communication” are? Writing sound learning objectives is foundational to creating helpful learning content. Here are some best practices for writing soft skills learning objectives and ensuring that objectives for this highly important but definitely slippery content are, indeed, sound.

Before You Begin To Write The Objectives

1. Understand what key terms mean.

Develop a deep understanding in the organization about what key terms mean (such as leadership, time management, communication, coaching, etc.) in the context of your organization’s culture and values.

2. Use keywords in a way that others will understand. 

Does your organization have a list of competencies? A well-defined list of knowledge, skills, and abilities for job roles can provide the foundation for learning objectives and help you use keywords in a way that others will understand. It will also help you understand what success looks like.

When You Write The Objectives

1. Follow the general guidelines for writing good instructional objectives.

  • Write the objective to be learner centric. It should be about what the learner will do, not what the learning or instructor will do.
  • The objectives should have an observable behavior. Avoid words like learn, know, and understand. Instead, think of what the learner will be able to do.
  • Tie the objectives to job-based skills, and don’t be afraid to be specific.
  • Use only one action verb per objective.
  • Learning objectives should be measurable. What is your measure of success?

2. Write formal learning objectives with the condition, behavior, and degree fully developed.

The most difficult thing about creating soft skills learning objectives is the general lack of precision around how you will know if the learner has accomplished the objective. Writing complete objectives will help you nail down what is being taught, how it is presented, and what successful mastery of the objective looks like in very concrete terms.

3. Validate your objectives.

You can do this by showing them to people who are known to be successful in the soft-skills arena in your organization.

4. Use Bloom's Taxonomy. 

Strive for the higher levels of Bloom's Taxonomy. For example, you don’t want your learner to be able to define what good communication is. You want them to be able to effectively communicate in novel situations.

Here are some examples of good and weak soft skills learning objectives.

Good business skills learning objectives:

“Given customer demographics and a list of potential product features, the learner will perform an analysis in order to determine the most valuable product characteristics.”

“Given a company's anti-harassment policy and scenario, the learner will determine if an incident of sexual harassment has occurred.”

“Given a situation, a task to accomplish, and a disruption to the situation, the learner will adjust her plans so as to accomplish the task within the time allowed and at the budget given, in spite of the disruption.”

Weak business skills objectives:

“The learner will understand the basics of good written communications.”

Why it is weak: “Understand” isn’t an observable behavior. How will you know the learner has achieved understanding? And, what are “the basics”? This objective lacks specificity. A better objective would ask the learner to write something using her understanding of the “basics” of good written communications.

“Briefly discuss the three parts of a successful negotiation.”

Why it is weak: This objective isn’t written from the perspective of the learner. It is an instruction to the writer. A better objective would ask the learner to apply the parts of a negotiation model to a real-life scenario.

“The learner will list the six parts of a good employee evaluation."

Why it is weak: This objective is written at the “remember” level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. A better objective would ask the learner to write an employee evaluation, applying her knowledge of the “six parts.”

After You Write The Objectives

Test your objectives by observing learners applying their new knowledge on the job.

Are they able to successfully perform what was taught? If not, review your learning objectives first. Were they written in a way that references how the learner will use the learning? Are they appropriately tied to job performances?

Final Words

You might hear people say that particular soft skills can’t be taught - that the learner should be born with the knowledge. The good news is that isn’t true! If you can clearly understand what the learner must do, under what circumstances, and understand what success looks like, you can write good performance-based soft skills learning objectives. And writing those objectives is the first step to cracking the extremely difficult nut of developing learning content for business skills. Good luck!

Hungry for more? Learn what I believe makes for great Instructional Design.

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