More on the Learning Environment Design (LED) Model…
At the very core of the LED Model are the objectives: business objectives, performance objectives, and emerging learning objectives. At work, we call these “cascading objectives,” but for the LED Model, I think I’d like to dub them something along the lines of “line-of-sight objectives.” The most important point is that objectives are the starting place for any design. They give you your purpose, your context, and your learning aims.
Giving credit where it’s due, let me say up front that this model for objectives was based on the work of Toni Hodges in her book, Linking Learning and Performance. I think it’s a critical approach because it focuses our attention on lining up learning, how that learning is applied to day-to-day performance, and what we’re trying to achieve as an organization.
Business Objectives. Since the LED Model is envisioned to apply in corporate learning and development, we have to start with business objectives. The business objectives tie the learning to some specific desired business outcome or an important business initiative. If we can’t tie our projects to business goals in a clear way, we’re probably not working on the right projects. Like it or not, in the corporate world, we should invest our learning efforts in goals which the organization defines as important.
Performance Objectives. In this model, performance objectives refer to behaviors that we want learners to be exhibiting on the job. I know that other objective-writing models refer to measurable learning objectives as performance objectives, but I think we need to make a clear distinction between what we can measure at the close of a learning program (or shortly thereafter) and how we want people to perform. In some projects, the difference between a performance objective and a learning objective may be three little words (on the job vs. in the classroom, for example), but more often, there is a leap that needs to be made between cognitive appreciation and just beginning to be able to demonstrate a skill, to real performance on the job. Making this distinction helps position us to discuss with our clients that we’re only going to get so far in a formal learning event… performance on the job depends on a number of other factors that need to be attended to as well.
Another important reason to define performance objectives is because they give us context for the learning. How learners apply learning about widgets to doing X is likely very different from applying what they know about widgets to doing Y. We need that context to position why we want learners to attend to the learning goals, and to effectively craft realistic examples and exercises within learning events.
An appropriate lead line for our performance objectives would be along the lines of: Applying the knowledge and skills learned in this program will support the learner’s abilities to…
Emerging Learning Objectives. Two concepts are important here – the meaning of a learning objective, and the fact that in Learning Environment Design, we are attempting to meet emerging learning objectives, not just the ones we can clearly define now. Learning objectives specify what we want the learners to know, value, or be able to do — or perhaps more importantly, what the learners themselves want to know, value or be able to do. They complete the sentence: Learners will be able to… The learning objective statements need to be specific and measurable.
Learning Environment Design is by definition a blended approach, so learning objectives come in a variety of subsets. We can start by envisioning the full scope of learning we want to achieve, but when we design individual aspects of the learning environment (a formal training component, a mentoring component, and an on-line resource component, for example), we may need to define the subset of objectives for that component. We certainly would want to do that for any specific formal training piece.
The distinguishing feature of Learning Environment Design is that it is meant to create a living, breathing environment for learning that can satisfy learning needs as they emerge in the work. That’s a very tall order. Our learning needs are constantly shifting, and the possible components of the learning environment should change over time. To me, that is what is so exciting about this concept. And the features of the internet and of our professional networks and communities make it possible to design environments that morph over time. That said, as the learning objective emerge, they may trigger the need for design of new or revised components of the learning environment. Again, that’s what makes working in learning and development such an exciting field of endeavor.
There is so much more that can be said about objectives, but this is already a really long blog entry, so I’ll stop there. I’d love to hear your comments – and your arguments for a different point of view. The conversation will help me to fine-tune this approach.