Goals are the Guide to Learning

Part 2 of a 3-part series on how to supercharge your online content! Learn how to make your online course easier to follow by leveraging simple design techniques: chunking, developing clear goals, and adding in visual aids.

This article is part 2 of a 3-part series where I walk you through a step-by-step process to take your online course content from a “wall of text” to a supercharged, easy-to-digest format.

Part 1: What is Chunking and Why is it Important for Your Online Course?
Part 2: Goals are the Guide to Learning
Part 3: Visual Aids

Goals of this article:

  • To understand that goals help prime learning
  • To understand that a good goal embeds details to further enhance learning

What are goals?

Dictionary.com defines a goal as

  • the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.

Goals in education are exactly this: directing the learners’ aim and effort to produce a desired result of learning. By adding goals to our content we explicitly inform the learner of the important pieces of information in a specific unit, module, chapter, etc. Goals are like the tracks for the train; the destination on your GPS; the stars for the seafarer. They paint the big picture and help to prime and guide our learners.

What aren’t goals?
Goals that focus on memorizing content. Goals should never drive a learner towards memorizing content. That’s not how we create expert learners!

Why are goals important to learning?

The goal is the target of the learners’ attention. Consider the graphic below… If I present you with Target A and I ask you to hit the target, where would you aim? You would likely focus on the entire area of the target, right? You might focus on the center so that you have something to aim for. However, there is nothing indicating a specific location of interest, so you’re probably going to focus on at least hitting the target no matter where you land. Now, consider that I present you with Target B — where is your focus now? You’re going to aim directly for the middle. This is what a goal does for learners. It directs their focus and primes them for learning. It’s simple but it’s extremely effective. Of course, the target isn’t always going to be straight down the middle and that’s why it’s so important to direct the focus of the learner towards the learning. An example of this is Target C, where the focus is off center.

Three circle targets that illustrate how we can direct focus. Target A is a blank target that doesn’t specify where the focus should be. Target B is a standard target with rings and the “bullseye” in the center. Target C illustrates that our goals, or focus, are not always “down the middle” by moving the rings and the “bullseye” the the upper-right corner of the target. Goals help to shift the learners’ focus where we want it to go.
Examples of various targets that guide the focus of the viewer to different locations.

What makes a goal good?

We know that goals are important to prime the learner and direct their focus. But are the goals we define good? There are good goals and there are not-so-good goals. Imagine if a recipe listed flour as an ingredient but didn’t tell you how much flour. A goal can be limited by not giving enough information. Let’s consider the following goal:

  • Understand the flow of one inning of baseball

Okay, so it’s not too bad, our learner is going to learn about the flow of one inning of baseball. Their mind is primed and ready to learn, but the goal by itself really only scratches the surface of what they’ll be learning. What if we tried this instead…

  • Understand that one inning of baseball consists of a top half and a bottom half

Now you’re not only telling me what I’m going to learn, you’re also giving me more of the details that help my mind to lay the foundation for what is to come. If all I read was this one goal I would already know that an inning of baseball consists of a top half and bottom half even without digging into the actual content. Now we’re cooking!

Goals can also be overwhelming, and it’s worth noting that there is a line between too little and too much. Consider this example:

  • Understand that one inning of baseball consists of a top half and a bottom half where each half consists of three outs in which the defensive team tries to limit the number of runs the offensive team scores

This goal is giving too much information at once — information overload. A good rule-of-thumb is to limit your goals to 1 or 2 new pieces of information. If you feel that all of the information is needed, try breaking it down into separate goals.

Adding Goals to Our Baseball Game Content

Now that we know what goals are and why they are important, let’s add some goals to our mini-module example about baseball.

The Flow of a Major League Baseball Game
Understanding Goals
Understand that a Major League Baseball game consists of at least 9 innings
- Understand that one inning has a top half and a bottom half
- Understand that each half inning is played until the defensive team records 3 outs
- Understand that each batter represents an opportunity to record 1 out
An MLB game consists of at least 9 innings
A major league baseball game consists of at least 9 innings of play during which two opposing teams compete to score the most runs. If the game is tied after 9 innings, the teams continue to play extra innings until one team is declared the winner by scoring more runs than the other team.
Each inning has a top half and a bottom half
An inning of baseball is composed of two halves referred to as the “top half” and the “bottom half.” The two teams take turns playing offense (batting) and defense (on the field) each inning. The away team plays offense in the top half, while the home team plays offense during the bottom half.
Each half of an inning is played until the defensive team records 3 outs
During their half of the inning, the offensive team has three chances — referred to as outs — to score as many runs as possible. Once the defensive team records three outs, the players swap between offense and defense and begin the next half of the inning. Once an inning is complete, a new inning begins and follows the same pattern until the teams have played at least 9 innings.
Each batter represents an opportunity to record 1 out
Each half inning is played until the defensive team records 3 outs against the offensive team. There are many ways the defensive team might record an out, but in general the following three are the most common:
- when the pitcher “strikes out” the batter
- when a batter hits a fly ball that is caught in the air
- when a player is thrown out while running the bases.

Now we have defined four goals for this mini-module on The Flow of a Major League Baseball Game. By adding these goals we are giving the learner the roadmap for the content that follows. Not only that, we have also embedded just enough detail into each goal that the learner already has a basic understanding of the flow of a baseball game before they even begin digging into the content.

Defining your goals early can also be a great way to generate an outline for your online course. We go in more depth about goals and strategies to define goals in our online course Supercharge Your Online Course. Whether you are just getting started or have an already-established online course, our strategies are guaranteed to take your online course to the next level.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series where we’ll work on adding visual elements to further ignite the learning!

If you enjoyed this post, visit learningkeyworks.com for more content on how to design flexible online learning environments. If you’re ready to revamp your online course and unlock potential, sign up for our online course — Supercharge Your Online Course.

Matthew Riecken
Date Wed Jul 27, 2022
Categories online-learning
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