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How To Write Performance Objectives

Updated: May 22, 2023

Once analysis is completed, performance objectives are the basis for the instructional design process. They are the backbone of the curriculum and directly contribute to training material design and development. Their importance cannot be overstated!

What is a performance objective?


A performance objective is a precise, measurable statement of the behaviors that the learner will be able to demonstrate, the conditions under which they will be accomplished and the criteria for acceptable performance. It tells what the learner will be able to do, under what conditions, and to what standard.


Why do I need to write performance objectives?


Not all training is designed to be task oriented or behavior changing. Some training is, and should be, informational and contextual by design.


Performance training, training designed to change task behavior, however, requires performance objectives. Performance objectives are critical to the design of instruction because:

  • They guide the designer in selecting content and developing the instructional strategy for the course.

  • They provide a clear description of what the learners will be covering thus helping prevent instructional gaps or duplication.

  • They indicate to management what learners are being taught.

  • They establish criteria for evaluating learner performance when instruction ends.

  • Well-written objectives can demonstrate the relevance of material to the student, contributing greatly to their motivation for learning.


How do I write a performance objective?


An objective includes four parts:

  1. Who must meet the objective

  2. Under what circumstances the objective must be met (conditions)

  3. What action is required to measure the objective (a verb whose action is visible) (performance)

  4. What level of mastery must be performed to conclude that the objective was met (standards)

To help you write an objective, just remember this format:


Who? when Under what conditions?, will Do what? with Accuracy% accuracy.


For example:

  • Participants, when registering a client address, will key data given to them into the XYZ system with 100% accuracy.

  • The student, when participating in a simulation, will discover a new procedure for troubleshooting equipment failures with 80% accuracy.

  • The operator, when hearing a fire alarm, will use the alarm panel and his or her own visual inspection to determine the source of the fire and activate the appropriate pumps, hoses and halogen fire suppressant systems as represented within 30 seconds of the alarm start.

  • The student, when provided a sample result from a blood gas test, will identify the levels which exceed normal with 10 out of 10 times.

  • The system administrator, when installing a simulated E-mail gateway, will configure the time zone to correspond the time zone of the file server where the gateway is installed with 100% accuracy.

  • The pilot, when receiving a simulated radio command, will accurately execute a 30-degree course change using the flight-guidance system within 15 seconds.

  • The learner, when provided with 5 mixed samples of documentation and training, will accurately categorize at least four of the samples.


Why is it important to show 'under what conditions' the objective must be met?


Specifying the conditions helps you choose an instructional strategy for teaching and assessing how the learner is doing. A popular analogy for this is comparing apples to apples.


Good objectives allow for the performance to occur in an environment where the skill will actually be used later. A true-to-life situation instills confidence, enhances motivation, and maximizes learning transfer and retention.


Here is a list of verbs to help you describe types of behaviors:

​Analyze

Ascertain

Associate

Calculate Categorize

Change

Chart

Choose

Classify

Codify

Compose

Conclude

Define Demonstrate Depict

Derive

Describe Discriminate

Determine Differentiate Discover Distinguish

Draw

Estimate

Experiment

Explain

Extrapolate Generate

Identify

Illustrate

​ Infer

Interpolate Interpret

Invent

Label

List

Manipulate

Match

Measure

Name

Observe

Originate

Perform

Pick

Predict

​Rearrange Recognize

Remove

Reorder

Represent

Restate

Select

Sort

State

Summarize Transform Translate

Use

Write

What types of learning should I think about when writing performance objectives?


Objectives can be grouped into six major classes:

  1. Knowledge: recalling information

  2. Comprehension: explaining ideas

  3. Application: using ideas in a situation

  4. Analysis: seeing relationships between different things

  5. Synthesis: combining ideas to create a more complete picture

  6. Evaluation: making judgments

These six classes are listed in the order of the least complex type of learning to the most difficult. Your learners will find it easier to accomplish a knowledge-type objective than a comprehension type objective. To achieve mastery, they should be able to accomplish objectives in all of the classes. Although you could design course objectives to cover all six classes, it’s probably more practical for you to cover only those objectives that relate closely to the learners you have identified in your audience analysis. Think about what your learners will actually have to do on a day to day basis, and base your objectives on their real world as much as possible.


How will I use performance objectives later in the development of the course?


Focus -- Objectives that you write early in the development process will help you limit and focus the content of the course. You can concentrate writing the “need to know” information and avoid the “nice to know” information that isn’t relevant to the performance objective. This helps you avoid getting off track and wasting valuable development time.


Test Questions -- The performance objectives can also guide you in writing test questions. Your questions will focus on determining whether the learner actually achieved the objective. If you did a good job of writing objectives, the test questions will be easier to write because they test whether the criteria stated in the objectives were met. The type of behavior specified in an objective provides clues to the type of test item that can be used to test the behavior. And you can use the objective as a guide to select the type of test item that gives learners the best opportunity to demonstrate the performance specified in the objective.


Organizing the Course -- All of your performance objectives taken together represent what will be learned by the participants who go through the entire course. Group together those objectives that result in similar behaviors. When you run out of objectives that fit the bill, you’ve chunked the course objectives into lessons, modules, or units, depending on the scope of the content or the needs you’ve previously identified.


Evaluating the Course -- Every designer wants to know if the course was successful in meeting the learner’s needs. Although this depends also on the learner’s ability to transfer and retain their learning, you can assume that with all other factors being equal, an improvement in performance on the job after training probably indicates that your course was successful. Terminal objectives provide the benchmarks that you can measure the learner against. If they are able to sustain satisfactory performance on most or all of the objectives in a real situation after training is concluded, you can assume your course successfully met the training need.

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