Magazine article Training & Development

The Case for More Flexible Objectives

Magazine article Training & Development

The Case for More Flexible Objectives

Article excerpt

Perhaps you're able to create valid, performance-based objectives most of the time. Even so, wouldn't you like to expand your repertoire of training objectives to include equally valid, nonperformance-based objectives that are more flexible?

Performance-based objectives - as defined by Robert Mager - keep trainers on a goal-oriented track and offer the promise of results. Mager says that trainers should describe performance-based objectives so that each trainer interprets the objectives the same way and so that they can measure how close they come to achieving them.

In training for performance-based objectives, we envision a "before" and an "after." Before, employees don't know how to do their jobs or they make errors. What we expect after helps determine our objectives. In other words, what can employees do after training that they couldn't do before?

Mager talks about outcome, accomplishment, and competence. Trainers know that they've achieved results when they see a change, as in when they see trainees do something differently. Mager's objectives use action verbs. They don't talk about understanding, learning, knowing, and thinking. According to Mager, most people already think. Their thinking - trying to solve an algebra equation, for example - translates to observable tasks, such as writing the solution to the equation.

Mager's ideal objectives deal with facts and figures, instruments, and technical skills. Even his more "human" objectives are somewhat mechanical - such as this example: "On the following list of examples of human behavior, differentiate (sort) between the behavior that is normal and the behavior that is psychotic."

The "givens" in performance-based training are the conditions that determine the necessary tools or techniques required for results; the criteria specify how well trainees need to perform in order to master certain tasks. Such criteria help answer the age-old question, "How do you know whether training has met the objectives?" Mager says trainers should include possible test questions in their objectives.

Mager disavows objectives that have to do with emotions, saying there's no such thing as "affective" objectives. In the same vein, some trainers would snicker at a customer service objective that aims to "delight" customers.

Can trainers break away from the Mager model to expand their personal repertoires of objectives?

It doesn't have to be


Increasingly, organizations are asking trainers to conduct training on topics that don't fit Mager's criteria. These topics have to do with information-giving, leadership, soft skills such as time management, and personal issues such as substance abuse.

In these cases, the results or changes occur over time and can't be easily quantified. For example, trainers may convey information that may have no immediate job application such as an executive's view of the state of the industry.

As for soft skills, the training may simply remind and motivate employees to do what they already know how to do but don't always. Consequently, it's difficult to measure the acquisition of soft skills. The true test of time management, for example, isn't being able to answer questions about time management; it's being able to manage time.

Another important training topic, leadership, has to do with changing and clarifying values. Value issues - such as balancing work and family - involve changes in people's perceptions, habits, and relationships. Such changes happen only gradually.

Trainers who deal with such topics can't afford to neglect trainees' feelings. Being sensitive to their emotions may ultimately enhance trainees' performance and productivity. But usually the results aren't immediately observable.

Consider this increasingly common scenario: A woman works in an organization that has laid off several people, including her best friend, who is a single parent with financial problems. …

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