Get Over Your Wants and Find Their Needs

January 28, 2022


A revolution in content design has begun and it is causing a wonderful transformation in online courses.

This revolution is transforming the basic learning objectives into actionable learning outcomes. Though it may seem subtle, it has much deeper implications than just a word change. Learning objectives are developed around a design goal. They simply state what it is that a learner will be learning throughout a seminar or course. An article written by Kraiger, Ford and Salas in 1993 states that, "...learning may be evident from changes in cognitive, affective or skill capacities. This perspective contrasts approaches taken in other assessment models, which have either ignored learning outcomes or have treated learning as a unidimensional construct." We have learned that content design needs to take into consideration the way in which people perform their learning objectives, not just that they retain the knowledge. This can be communicated with achievable learning outcomes.

Many college courses will have them listed at the top of a syllabus. Learning outcomes tell the learner what they will learn, how they will learn it, and what skill they will gain as a result.

Here is an example of a learning objective: At the conclusion of HIST101, you will understand the motives and nature of colonization in the New World.

Here is an example of a learning outcome: At the conclusion of HIST101, the history student will have created a simulation game based on the motives and nature of colonization in the New World.

Both learning objectives and learning outcomes are key to building engaging content.

They serve two distinct purposes. Learning objectives are a guideline for writing the content of the seminar or course. In the HIST101 example the learning objective is intended to keep the content of the course focused on New World colonization. This may or may not be of any interest to the learner. However, the learning outcome is meant to set expectations and excite the learner about what they will achieve.

Learning objectives are what you want to convey and learning outcomes are what the learner needs to achieve.

To develop engaging learning outcomes, you must...

  1. Know your target audience
  2. Use keywords
  3. Express an actionable purpose


Use a Target Audience Survey to get to know your population. The basic questions for the survey will contain general demographics: Age, Gender, Education Level, Geographical Location, Technology Skills, and Motivation. Now that those baseline needs are captured, talk to the target audience and get to know them. Useful information can relate to: personality traits (introvert, extrovert, ambivert), hobbies, interests, how they spend their day, what they eat, who their heroes are, favorite color schemes, strengths/weaknesses, family relationships, spirit animal, favorite sporting events or favorite books. All of these topics seem to be unrelated, however, these are all important. They help you understand that each person is an individual with a bigger narrative. Even if you have worked with your audience for years, it is always good to refresh your knowledge and take a pulse on their pain points, goals and aspirations. Their needs and desires will drive you to create and share the knowledge that they truly need for real growth and outcomes.


Use learning outcomes to your advantage. Every bit of text that is included in a course should be used to trigger brain activity. Any text that is filler or fluff will create a lazy and distracted learning environment. The best way to use the learning outcome to trigger learning is by pointing out keywords that will work as attention cues for the learner. Select no more than 5 keywords in your learning outcome. Put them in bold or highlight them. This triggers the brain to say “these are important, I’ll pay attention when I see them.” Each time a learner is getting distracted they will gravitate toward text that includes a keyword to try to find the main point.


Learning with a purpose is much more tangible than learning for a concept or idea. Finding a purpose for your learner is focusing on their needs and not your wants. If you have successfully gotten to know your target audience, you know what their needs are and how your course can meet those needs. Use the learning outcome to express what new skill or performance the learner will walk away with. This is a way to excite the learner about what they are about to learn and immediately expresses why they should continue on. Use every opportunity to create energy and express purpose. Learners are more likely to enjoy their learning experience if they understand the impact that your instruction will have on their daily tasks or life experiences.

Get to know your audience, set expectations with key words and get them excited with actionable purpose!

Learning objectives are a set of clearly defined goals for course content. They are established by content creators and instructional designers to measure their own success while developing a course. Learning objectives can come in the form of statements or checklists. Quizzes, exercises, and practice activities are all created to meet the learning objectives. However, they aren't built for the learner, they are built for the design team. Truly set actionable expectations for your learners with learning outcomes. Learning objectives and learning outcomes are just two of the essentials for content creation to maximize engagement and encourage learners to stay active within an online course.

If this topic has your attention, R.M. Harden's research article may also be of interest: Learning Outcomes and Instructional Objectives: Is there a difference?

Also check out the Kraiger, Ford, and Salas article "Application of Cognitive, Skill-Based, and Affective Theories of Learning Outcomes to New Methods of Training Evaluation"

See the blog "Drop that Curriculum" for tips on how to translate traditional courses into online content.

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