Objectives: Knowledge, Skills, and Attitude


Objectives: Knowledge, Skills, and Attitude

When it comes to objectives, Robert Mager's definition is still the best:

An objective is the description of a performance you want learners to be able to exhibit, before you consider them competent.

Objectives, Mager adds, describe the results of instruction, not the instruction itself (Preparing Instructional Objectives, 1962). Furthermore, objectives can be of two types: terminal objectives, which refer to expected results at the end of the course, and enabling objectives, which are interim or subobjectives along the way.

Objectives Describe Outcomes, Not Processes

Strictly speaking, so-called behavioral or performance objectives are misnomers, for behavior and performance are process-words, and they do not describe the results. In business training, however, we are interested in results—and performance and behavior are only the means to an end. We should never lose sight of the fact that it is the outcome of a performance or a behavior that counts, not the performance or behavior itself.

The Three Components of an Objective

There are three components to a learning objective:

  1. A Performance: what the employee will be doing, saying, or accomplishing

  2. Specific Conditions: under what work circumstances and using what support tools does the task happen

  3. A Criterion: a standard or required level of proficiency, how one will recognize success

Example of an Objective

Here is an example of a performance objective for the following task (skill):

The learner will be able to draw a pistol, fire, and hit the behaviorist professor's trigger hand (disabling him) from a distance of thirty feet, at least four out of six times.

  1. Performance:

Draw a pistol, fire, and hit the behaviorist professor's trigger hand

  1. Conditions:

From a distance of thirty feet

  1. Criterion:

At least four out of six times

Knowledge, Skills, and Attitude

The types of objectives were clearly defined in the 1950s. At that time Benjamin Bloom, a behaviorist and founding father of competency-based learning, posited three "domains" of learning that have since become standard. They have been used as a baseline by practically every major practitioner in the field. Bloom described the three domains as follows:

  • KNOWLEDGE: The cognitive or thinking domain includes facts and information.

    Example of Knowledge: "Score 90 percent on the certification exam."

  • SKILLS: The psychomotor or "doing" domain, which refers to physical on-the-job performance.

    Example of a Skill: "Be able to word-process eighty words-a-minute, with less than one mistake per 100."

  • ATTITUDE: The affective or feeling domain.

    Example of a Proper Attitude: "Obey the ten safety regulations while on the shop floor."

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The "A"-Word

Over the years, the third term in Bloom's triad of Knowledge, Skills, and Attitude has been referred to variously as Attributes (traits such as patience, judgment, and strength), Aptitudes (capabilities), and even Abilities (which confusingly would encompass both knowledge and skills as well). This terminological blurring is best sorted out and clarified by the individual practitioner.

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Fastpaths

1949

Ralph Tyler, father of behavioral objectives, publishes Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction.

1954

Peter Drucker publishes article "Management by Objectives and Self-Control," stating that "each manager, from the top on down to the production foreman, needs clearly spelled-out objectives that clarify expected contributions to the company's goals."

1956

Benjamin Bloom, founder of behavioral objectives along with Tyler, publishes Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals. In this classic text Bloom systematizes Tyler's objectives in a study of goal-directed learning and behavioral objectives, which also became a forerunner of today's "competencies." Bloom posits three broad categories of objectives: knowledge, skills, and attitude (cognitive, psychomotor, and affective domains). These domains still hold sway today. It should be pointed out that Bloom did not complete his taxonomy. After distinguishing six cognitive behaviors (knowledge, analysis, application, comprehension, evaluation, synthesis) and five attitudinal behaviors (characterization, organization, receiving, responding, valuing), he did not address the different types of psychomotor behavior (physical skills).

1962

Robert Mager: Preparing Objectives for Programmed Instruction (later became Preparing Instructional Objectives). Mager, with a wit and concision normally lacking in instructional circles, popularizes Bloom for the world of training and development by taking objectives out of the ivory tower and into the real world of the corporate practitioner. This is the text that sparked the modern boom in performance-improvement efforts focused on specific outcomes or objectives. Republished many times, this is still one of the standard texts.

1965

George Odiorne's Management by Objectives appears. Odiorne raises behavioral objectives to the organizational level and thereby helps launch a practice that will endure down to the present day. Building on Tyler's, Bloom's, and Mager's works on objectives, and aligning them with the concomitant rise of organizational development in the 1960s, Odiorne provided management with a reporting tool which, akin to accounting, permitted organizations to measure personal output and personal performance. MBOs are a forerunner and relative of modern competencies.

1970

Robert Kibler et al: Behavioral Objectives and Instruction. A classic in the field.

1992

William Rothwell: Mastering the Instructional Design Process: A Systematic Approach. Part Three contains an excellent summary of research on learning objectives.

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Sidebar for Psychologists and Philosophers

Interestingly, Bloom's triad of performance domains actually mirrors classic psychology, in particular that of Plato.

Plato's Psychology

Bloom's Psychology

Organizational

Individual

Individual

Knowledge workers

Mind (head)

Cognitive knowledge (thinking)

Skilled craftsmen

Body (hands)

Physical skills (doing)

Manager "charioteers"

Emotion (heart)

Emotional attitude (feeling)

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A Mager Sidebar

Mager is important enough to deserve a separate listing of his works. His books include (dates are of first edition):

  • Preparing Objectives for Programmed Instruction (1962) [later called Preparing Instructional Objectives]

  • Developing Vocational Instruction (1967)

  • Developing Attitude Toward Learning (1968)

  • Analyzing Performance Problems (1970)

  • Measuring Instructional Intent (1973)

His major works were collected and republished in a six-volume edition in 1984:

  • Analyzing Performance Problems

  • Goal Analysis

  • How to Turn Learners On Without Turning Them Off

  • Making Instruction Work

  • Measuring Instructional Results

  • Preparing Instructional Objectives

Core checklists and major points from his books are collected in What Every Manager Should Know About Training (1992).

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See also Competencies