In learning design we begin the planning process by looking at where we want to end up. 

It may feel counter intuitive, but by starting with the end, we begin with a clear understanding of where you're trying to get to. Designing the “end” first helps to focus on the goal (learning) rather than the process (teaching).

By thinking about the end, we’re also better placed to understand where learners are now and what steps would help them move in the right direction – towards the goal. 

This thinking has even made it's way to best practice for "presenters". Check out the video Never speak on a topic again and replace "speak" with "teach" and "presentation" with "course". It's a great short video that explains why thinking in terms of topics leads to awful presentations (or courses).

So, instead of asking: What topics should we cover?

Ask: 

  • What do we want learners to achieve?

  • What skills do we want learners to take with them? 

  • What are the "big rocks"?

  • If I asked them to prove to me they'd taken this course (and knew their stuff), what could they do?

Making your goal measurable

A lot of the time we end up with goals like: 

Understand what a balanced diet is. 

The difficulty arises in that “understanding” is hard to observe or measure. So, we need to be more specific. 

To get more specific, ask:

  • How will you know that a student understands.....?

  • What things can the student do given they understand....?

It is more helpful to identify specific capabilities that make up understanding,  for example: 

Choose a goal at the right level

Looking through our goals in the right-hand column, we can see that goals are not necessarily all created equal. We would suggest that some of those goals are at a "higher" level. So, when you're coming up with your goals, make sure to check that it's at the right difficulty level for your learners.

Bloom's taxonomy is commonly used for cognitive levels. Blooms suggests that the "easiest" level is to be able to remember something. You can build on memorisation to understand, apply analyse, evaluate and create.

If we add our goals into this taxonomy we can see the levels.

We can also see now that we don't have any goals under apply, analyse or evaluate. That might not be a problem for your context (but you'll want to have some activities to scaffold learners to the higher level when you plan activities). Either way taking the time to think about the different levels at least highlights where your course goals sit overall.

What next?

Remember once you've got your goal, check it against what you've identified for your target audience:

  • Would our audience value that goal? 

  • Does the goal we've set get our learners closer to where they want to go? 

  • Is the level or difficulty of our goal about right for our learners?

If you haven't already, a great next step is to plan assessment, then activities, then content. If you have done that step, now's a perfect time to check that your goals align with your content, practice activities and assessment.

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