Sunday, 28 October 2012

Objectives: are you using them to your advantage?

If you’ve had anything to do with objectives, the mere mention of the word makes you groan. They are hard to define if done properly, but despite them being around for ages, (started in the 1940s and given more credence by Robert Mager, educationalist, in the 1960s) they are still being misused.

It doesn’t help that so many terms have been used with the same precept such as:
  • Learning objectives
  • Outcomes
  • Enabling objectives
  • Terminal objectives
  • Educational objectives
  • Performance objectives
  • Instructional objectives
  • Competencies
An objective is a precise definition of a result that is wanted, in terms that will allow the result to be measured. (Glossary, Managing Interactive Media, 4th edition). The key thing is that they are defined with a measurable outcome. The test is built into the definition - a bit like Agile scrums. So, if the measure is missing, it isn’t an objective. It might be a goal or a general aim which are more nebulous or woolly, but it isn’t an objective.

How can you use them to your advantage? Well, if your clients - especially at the beginning of a project - are having difficulty in defining what they want to achieve with their interactive sites, and if any of them understands or has had to use objectives it might be the spur you need to get them to be more precise. If they can give you measurable objectives in business terms of what they are trying to achieve, it makes your job so much easier. Remember, we have tried to influence you to work in measurable ways so that you can prove that you have achieved what the client wanted. We have placed the burden of defining objectives or the equivalent on you. But if your client can define the measures - for example "increase traffic to our site by 30%" or "increase sales on our online site by x%" or "decrease the complaints about poor usability of our site by x%" - you can see how these concentrate your focus and efforts.

Note the construction of the objective-style sentence. We will do this (use a tangible verb in the first part of the sentence) by doing this (stating a provable/measurable outcome in the second part of the sentence).

There you are: sorted. It’s not as problematic as many make out. You can do it and so can your clients. Once you understand the tricks, objectives can work for you. You don’t have to call them objectives; which may be why there are a lot of alternative terms around as in the list. This blog just covers the basics. If you are motivated to learn more about objectives there’s a good summary from an educational stance at The University of Ohio.

Then you just have to consider how to apply them to your situation. Good luck.