All successful journeys begin with tangible goals. This is especially true when it comes to learning and development. For any learning intervention to be effective, be it for workplaces or higher education, great thought must be put into what the learning activity aims to accomplish. Naturally, the first step content developers take when creating a training or other eLearning courses, is coming up with the particular learning objectives they hope their learners will achieve by the end of the course.
While the task of creating precise learning objectives may appear to be simple, the actual process requires a lot of thought and consideration to be put into just a few words. Creating effective learning objectives is a skill that needs to be mastered before instructors begin to delve into the specifics. Fortunately, the concept of SMART learning objectives can serve as a guide for instructors when it comes to creating goals for their courses.
In this article, we will not only discuss what SMART learning objectives are but also discover how competency-based learning can be leveraged to deliver these SMART goals. Most importantly, we will study these ideas in the context of applying them in Learning Management Systems. So let’s get started!
Understanding SMART Learning Objectives
Although SMART is an acronym (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound), the idea behind SMART learning objectives is to create learning outcomes that follow a particular framework. Doing so can help course authors and instructors establish goals their learners can realistically accomplish. SMART learning objectives must have the following characteristics:
To successfully achieve the goals of learning intervention, they must be specific. Vague or ambiguous learning outcomes not only confuse learners but also add an element of frustration on their end. On the other hand, the clarity offered by specific outcomes helps learners easily evaluate whether they have met them successfully. Specific learning outcomes can sound like the following:
- Upon completion, students will be able to calculate their environmental footprint.
- At the end of the course, employees will be able to successfully onboard new hires.
- This course equips learners with the tools needed to run and troubleshoot the accounting software.
It is also helpful to incorporate outcomes that can be measured. Measurable outcomes can help instructors gauge student performance. Several metrics can be used to measure the degree of success. Performance in assessments or assignment grades is a popular indicator of how well a student has achieved the goal set out by the instructor. For gamified courses on eLearning platforms, this can be reflected in engagement levels, badges, or points on the leaderboard. Other ways to determine learner success include feedback forms or assessing the overall pace of progress in the course.
It goes without saying that the SMART learning objectives must be achievable for the average learner. It is important that course authors don’t set unrealistic expectations; the end goal must be kept reasonably achievable. For example, expecting students in a beginner’s French language class to turn in a 100% grammatically correct writing assignment is not realistic. Instead, expecting a lower degree of accuracy, say 70%, by a majority of the students is quite achievable.
Oftentimes, instructors can easily get lost in unnecessary details when creating a course. It is helpful for course authors to keep note of the relevancy of the learning materials to the audience. The more direct impact a learning intervention has on the students’ lives, the more likely they are to successfully complete it. For employees undergoing training, the training outcome must be translated into real-world applications and should aid them in their roles. For example, you wouldn’t offer a training course titled “Advanced Python Coding” to a salesperson.
SMART learning objectives can’t be left open-ended. It sounds counterintuitive, but all learning outcomes need to be subject to a certain timeline. This helps give learners some structure and allows them to dedicate their time and resources accordingly. Though it is important to note that the timeline itself can vary for different students. For example, if a platform allows students to personalize their learning journey, then they can set the pace of learning based on what works best for them. But the learning, whatever the pace may be, must remain time-bound.
Leveraging SMART Learning Objectives Via Competency-Based Learning
One way to incorporate SMART learning objectives in practice, particularly online, is through the concept of competency-based learning. The idea of competency-based learning is to assign learners certain skills or concepts that they must acquire to complete a particular course. In order to demonstrate that the learners have mastered these skills, they must successfully complete relevant assessments assigned by the instructors that determine their level of competency.
Using SMART learning objectives to come up with these competencies, instructors can ensure that learners successfully master the concepts they had set out to achieve. Students cannot progress to a new section or course until they have achieved the specific and measurable goals set out for them and their progress can be tracked by the instructors. However, the pace at which these objectives are met can vary depending on the learners’ preferences.
How to Incorporate Competency-Based Learning in an LMS?
The interest in Competency-Based Education (CBE) is growing rapidly in both educational institutions as well as workplaces. More than 75% of institutions in the US expect to grow their CBE programs by 2024. With rising interest in this goal-oriented approach to learning, it is important to find out ways to incorporate competencies in an LMS, since a disproportionate number of organizations rely on such platforms to deliver learning. Let’s take a look at the ways in which institutions can create competencies and apply SMART learning objectives in eLearning platforms.
Create Learning Paths
Learning paths depict the specific learning journey a student or trainee undertakes in order to achieve their intended goals. This could include a series of courses they must take in order to develop a certain competency. Individualized learning paths can be created in an LMS to reflect the particular journey a learner might be interested in. In this way, learners can explore a diverse range of SMART learning objectives and choose what they feel is the best fit for them. As they progress along the learning path selected, they build knowledge and gain greater expertise, all at their own pace.
Analyze Skill Gaps
When creating any learning activity, some LMSs allow course authors to assign certain competencies that can be achieved by successfully completing the activity. This can be further extended to assign a set of competencies to particular learning paths which gives learners a clear idea of what skills they can master by pursuing a certain path.
In workplaces, employees can leverage this to determine what competencies their desired roles need and what learning paths they must choose to gain these competencies. At the same time, they can also view what competencies they do have. In this way, the LMS platform can serve as a database where users can analyze their skills gaps and work to mitigate them.
Support Development Activities
Once learners have identified their skill gaps and decided on the learning path of their choice, the next step is to acquire the SMART learning objectives. To this end, a Learning Management System can help learners achieve their competencies in a number of ways. By inputting current skills and desired goals a learner aims to achieve, the platform can come up with an automatic guide on how they should go about it.
Some LMSs also include a pre-assessment option that helps learners gauge their current level of competence. As they progress through their learning journey, they can continue to self-assess and determine how well they are progressing. For workplace learners, certain on-the-job skills can be taught through special modules, where peers use the expertise they have gained through years of experience to help learners gain the specific skills they need to perform in the role they’re aiming for.
Track Learner Progress
Well-equipped LMS platforms come with highly useful tracking tools so that instructors can determine how successful learners are in achieving their SMART learning objectives. Reporting tools can be used to determine which learners are having a difficult time achieving their competencies and the right instructor intervention can help them keep moving forward by addressing their issues. For example, if a learner is struggling to achieve 100% competency, the instructor can reach out to them and send them supporting materials that may help with their learning.
Create SMART Learning Objectives with Edly
Competency-based learning is the future of education. With a learning model that focuses on goal-achievement, flexible pacing, and eliminating skill gaps, many organizations are coming up with ways to make learning competency-based. As we explained earlier, this journey starts with setting up SMART learning objectives so that learners can gain clarity on what they can get out of a particular course.
Creating a Learning Management System with the right features and tools to implement SMART learning objectives can be a difficult task if you don’t know where to start. Fortunately, Edly’s team of experts is here to help you implement the competency-based learning tools you’re looking for! To find out more about our custom learning solutions, feel free to contact us and request a free demo!