how to design a course from learning objectives

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This is something I learned from an experienced corporate trainer many years ago when I was a hypnotherapist looking to offer my first one-day workshops around specific topics like stress management and self-esteem. It’s the most useful thing I know about course design, and the key to getting started on building a bridge from experiencing problems to creating a course that will solve them.

Apologies in advance to any experienced trainers out there, to whom this will probably seem like the bleedin’ obvious. I offer this in the hope that other people, especially those just starting out, will find it as useful as I did.

Start with two columns on a piece of paper or in a Word table.

Column 1 – What are your course objectives?

In other words, what do you want students to be able to do at the end of the course? If the course is designed to fit a particular need or solve a particular problem (and it should be), the objectives will be about what students can do differently that will meet that need or solve that problem.

You might start with one big objective – this should include what needs to be learned (skill), who needs to learn it (the audience) and what they need to know before they start (prerequisite). You can either make the prerequisite a condition of coming on the course (e.g. for an NLP Master Practitioner course, some basic knowledge of NLP skills are presumed, so there’s a requirement for NLP Practitioner certification before you come on it); or you can teach the prerequisites within the course, which gives you more learning objectives to add to your list.

Within the big learning objective, there may be several sub-objectives. Write them all down.

There’s an excellent short post about coming up with learning objectives on Tom Kuhlmann’s Rapid E-learning blog.

List all the objectives, in whatever order they occur to you.

Column 2 – What activities will meet these objectives?

In the second column, list the training activities and exercises that will meet each learning objective. It’s possible that one activity will cover more than one learning objective. It’s also possible that you will need more than one activity to cover a particular objective (quite often this could mean that the objective could usefully be chunked down into multiple smaller objectives).

Ordering the activities

Decide which order you will meet the objectives in – the prerequisites need to come first. Now order your course as a whole, and each individual segment, according to the 4-MAT system (or another system, if you have a favourite one that works for you).

Final step

Notice how long it will take to get through all the activities you have listed, and consequently how long the course will be. If you have constraints on the training time available, what activities / objectives can you leave out?

So there you have it – you’ve designed a course! At a high level, and with material you know well, you can do this in 5 minutes.

Please let me (and your fellow readers) know if you have found this useful, and how you have used it. If you want to recommend other course design resources (yes, even your own, if they are articles or downloads freely available to the reader rather than stuff you are selling), please use the comments to do so.

How to design a course from learning objectives

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