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5 Pitfalls to Avoid when Framing Learning Objectives

Learning objectives are crucial to any e-learning course, they describe what the learner will learn or know after engaging in the course. They help learners know where they are going and act as a guide to help learners assess themselves. Learning objectives form the basis for defining the content, duration, and cost of the course. When the learning objectives are set, it becomes easy to determine the content to be included, what can achieve the learning objective, and what can be skipped.

Based on the objectives, the learning designer decides on the instructional strategy for the course. This in turn determines the cost and duration. For instance, a story-based learning strategy might mean a longer duration of the course, and hence additional costs.

The importance of learning objectives cannot be overstated because they from the crux of the goals of your course and describe what your learners will achieve once they complete it.

Learning objectives:

  • Make the process of teaching and learning more organized and focused
  • Set the path for the course and help understand the direction and its end purpose

As a learning developer, you should know how to frame learning objectives correctly. It is equally important to know the pitfalls to avoid while framing them. We will cover a few of them in this blog to help you compose better learning objectives for your courses.

1. Stay away from false and unclear performance statements in the objectives

When creating learning objectives, sometimes instructional designers end up writing them in a way that makes them appear as learning objectives, but which in reality do not contain any element of performance.

They are not objectives because they do not mention what the learner has to do to demonstrate his mastery of the unstated intent of the course.


  • Be able to think critically
  • Be able to relate to others

The objectives mentioned above do not refer to any concrete element of performance that is specific and measurable, which they should ideally do. But if the learning objective is, ‘Be able to list the precautions to be taken when…’ or ‘Be able to identify three important parts of the human heart’ – these have specific and measurable elements of performance.

2. Avoid mentioning vague or non-existent conditions under which the learner should perform

Another component of learning objectives is the condition under which a learner should perform. This should be clear and precise. Having vague conditions in learning objectives only increases their ambiguity. For example, consider a learning objective that mentions, ‘Given adequate practice…’

Words such as ‘adequate’ fail to describe the specific conditions for the learner to achieve the objectives of the course. The conditions for performance  should be clear and specific. A good example is ‘Without using any tools, remove the microchip in a mobile phone’.

3. Refrain from using generic phrases in your learning objectives

Using generic phrases in your learning objectives will only dilute the purpose of your course.  For instance, a course on writing with a learning objective that mentions, ‘By the end of this course, you should be able to write an essay’ is too generic whereas the learning objective will be more specific if it is worded like this, ‘Summarize a novel you have recently read in a three-page essay.’

 The second example is a more specific learning objective that mentions the purpose of the course and communicates the same to the learner. For instructional designers, specific learning objectives help them structure the content and organize it in a proper way so that learning is effective and seamless.

4. Shun the use of vague and ambiguous statements

Learning objectives should be framed in simple, clear language. Vague and ambiguous statements such as, ‘Clarify questions about safety measures when using a welding machine’ will be less effective than, ‘Understand and adopt safety measures when using a welding machine’.

5. Avoid using terms that cannot measure/observe the learner’s performance after the course

Learning objectives should clearly mention what the learner has to perform or do after completing the course. If the objective is incorrect or unclear, it will fail to communicate the objective.

For instance, for a course on communication skills, if the objective is ‘Have a deep appreciation for good communication practices’, it is vague and will not measure what the learner is supposed to do, whereas a more specific goal, ‘Be able to communicate effectively in a professional environment through presentations’ is clear and sets the expectations from the learner.

Learning objectives should mention terms that can measure and quantify the learner’s performance.

When creating learning objectives for your course, ensure you avoid these pitfalls. Remember learning objectives play a pivotal role in your e-learning course. The success of any e-learning program depends on clear objectives that will provide the right direction to your learners. Do you feel the same about learning objectives? Share your views with us.

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