ER Corner: Objectives—Healthcare Education’s Second Aim

  • Friday, December 16, 2016
  • Education

In the last ER Corner, I told you about the first of three “aims” of healthcare education: the identification of real-world, behavioral outcomes. I suggested that there were two critical aspects of specifying outcomes: (1) outcomes refer to real-world behaviors that demonstrate what knowledge looks like when demonstrated in the real world, and (2) outcomes are classified according to a taxonomy of learning. In the AEIS workshop on learning outcomes, I further described how every outcome comprises a verb and the object of the learning outcome itself, as in “Generate a treatment plan for a client with carpal tunnel syndrome.” It is the verb (referred to as a learned capability verb, or LCV) that actually classifies the outcome as a specific variety of learning.

In this week’s ER Corner, I’ll provide a similar treatment of the second aim: the generation of measurable, behavioral objectives that operationalize the outcomes we specify for our instruction. Along with the third aim, assessment based on your objectives (the subject of my next ER Corner and a subsequent AEIS workshop), these aims are the core principles of instructional design; failure to attend to all three in the correct sequence can result in fundamental flaws in instruction that can lead to corresponding failure to learn.

With objectives, we begin to reap the fruits of our labor in specifying (and classifying) our learning outcomes. As an instructional designer, I most often use five-component objectives, which I will describe in more detail shortly, but three-component, or Magerian objectives, so named for their creator, Robert Mager, work nearly as well. A Magerian objective comprises a (1) performance, the (2) conditions under which the learning is demonstrated, and the (3) criteria by which the performance will be judged. For example, “(1) Given a set of population health data, the learner will (2) generate a report highlighting (3) four of the five most pressing health issues for that population.”

The learning outcome for this objective would have been “generate a report highlighting four of the five most pressing health issues for a population.” Thus, my learning outcome already has two of the three components of my objective—I need only copy, paste, and add the conditions.

Five-component objectives are even more specific. They comprise a (1) situation (conditions), (2) learned capability verb, (3) object (outcome), (4) action verb, and (5) tools or conditions. The acronym SLOAT for the above (a cognitive strategy!) is used to help scaffold the generation of five-component objectives. The three-component objective above written as a SLOAT might be “(1) Given a set of population health data (situation), the learner will (2) generate (3) a report by (4) writing that (5) highlights four of the five most pressing health issues for that population.” You can see that the “performance” component in a Magerian objective is split into the LCV and the outcome itself, making it impossible to accidentally misclassify the outcome. The addition of a fourth component, the action verb, provides further clarity about the means by which a student should demonstrate the task. This helps ensure that the performance of the outcome is tied to the intended context; a learner could generate the specified report with equal skill by oral presentation or by writing, yet these two may not be considered equal in terms of what the educator has in mind. 

You can see how specifying learning outcomes as your first step results in either 40 percent or 60 percent of a good learning objective. And just as the outcome drives (is aligned with) the objective, each component of a five-component objective narrows the list of possibilities when it comes to assessment. The LCV tells me the difference between a rule and verbal information, for example, and thus ensures that I write an assessment that has the learner apply the rule to determine a result (when it is a rule) or has the learner state what the rule is (when it is in fact a proposition, which is a type of verbal information).

I’ve given you a lot of information in an abstract context here, so if you want practice applying this to the generation of your own objectives, come to the AEIS Workshop on Objectives on Wednesday, January 18.

For more information on attending this workshop in person, participating live from another campus, requesting a workshop on your campus, or to set up a consultation with Education Resources for teaching or education scholarship assistance, contact Shae Samuelson at (701) 777-6150. Stay tuned for the next ER Corner and its associated workshop, which will focus on how to write good assessments based on objectives!

Richard Van Eck, PhD
Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning 
Founding Dr. David and Lola Rognlie Monson Endowed Professor in Medical Education