Continuing the series of developing learning materials, Kate Foreman explains the role of aims and objectives in setting up a training session

This week I want to begin to look at how training and learning materials are developed effectively. This follows from last week's discussion on identifying why an individual might need training and how to go about deciding priorities. This is quite a big subject and, contrary to the commonly held view, this is not 'money for old rope'. Effective and well-designed materials require some skill to develop. Ideally, learning materials should be tailored to the individual or group of individuals - otherwise it becomes the dreaded 'sheep-dipping' exercise and may have little or no value. Training should not be about the ability of the trainer to show-off, although it often seems like this is its intended purpose. In practice, the majority of effective learning takes place not when the trainer is talking, but when the learner is doing and it will help you to remember this.The key word whenever you develop learning materials should be planning, with a capital P. There a number of areas that you always need to consider. You ignore any one of these at your peril. They are:

  • The aims and objectives of the training
  • The content
  • The training methods you can use
  • The costs involved
  • The specific skills required.
  • All of these will be considered in the coming weeks. The first area to look at is the creation of aims and objectives. These can (and, indeed, should) be applied to all types of learning, whether you are constructing something to increase knowledge of a subject, or where you are intending to create a change in the way people do something. In trainer-speak, this is known as 'behavioural change'.Aims and objectives are relevant for any training that you create and should be the starting point of the whole process.The aim is a fairly general statement about what you intend the leaner to be able to do as a result of the training. So it is logical to consider what you want or need from the training. Imagine that you want to develop a training session on negotiating skills for the ongoing development of a group of new claims settlement staff. You might decide that the aims of the course are: "To be able to demonstrate knowledge of the negotiating process and apply the skills involved in a simple one-to-one negotiation."This covers a pretty wide range of issues, because there are several stages within the process of negotiation. However, that is acceptable, because it makes a statement about what we want to achieve overall. When writing the learning objectives, we will be more precise in stating what skills we want the student to have at the end of the session.

    Practical outcomeObjectives are specific. They illustrate exactly what the learner should be able to do as a direct result of leaning. Matching the objectives with the results of a training session will help to evaluate whether or not the training has actually worked. After all, if you don't know what you want to achieve, you won't be able to tell whether or not you've achieved it. This is the precise area that makes or breaks training and should also be considered if you are purchasing external training. If there are no stated aims and objectives, then don't buy it. You will be wasting your money if the company supplying the training cannot give an indication of the intended practical outcome of the learning.Before constructing your objectives, you will need to consider who the training is for. This is where training often does not meet the expectations of the participants. If, for example, there are ten participants and three are already quite experienced negotiators, there will be three bored (and possibly disruptive) participants in the training session. This will not only affect the outcome of the training for the inexperienced people, but will also create an attitude of "it was a waste of time" which may well damage future training efforts. So think carefully about your intended audience.For this exercise, imagine that our learners are new to the role of negotiator. This will make it much easier to decide what needs to be included in the objectives and, therefore, in the eventual content.Now consider what the objectives of the negotiating course might be. By the end of the training, participants will be able to:

  • Define 'negotiation'
  • Prepare for a negotiating discussion
  • Follow a process for the discussion
  • Demonstrate influencing skills and assertiveness in a discussion
  • Apply methods of dealing with conflict during a discussion
  • Recognise the signals demonstrated during negotiations.
  • When writing objectives, there are some simple rules to follow every time. The most important of these to use are 'action' words. Such words include - apply, demonstrate, follow, define, analyse, list, create, write and build. There are some words that you should avoid like the plague - for example, appreciate, understand, be aware of. You cannot accurately measure if someone is 'aware of' something, but you can accurately measure if he can demonstrate it.If you are going to be involved in creating training materials, you should spend some time with a thesaurus making a list of words that you can use in the creation of objectives and pin them above your desk. This will help you to focus clearly on what you want learners to achieve from training and will save time and effort when creating the content, as you can refer back to your list to keep you on track.

    Behavioural changeAs an adjunct to this, you should also consider how you are going to get the learner to demonstrate what he has learned. For example, if the acquisition of knowledge is the issue, this can be tested quite easily, by asking questions or setting a test. However, if behavioural change is what you seeking, then alternatives, such as role plays, or a presentation made by the learner to the rest of the group should be considered. Remember, the most effective learning comes out of doing something.To get the full benefit from this series of articles, I suggest that you identify a subject that you would like to develop for training and begin by creating aims and objectives. Next time we will start on the content of the course.

  • Kate Foreman is director of training and competence with the RWA Group
  • This page is edited by RW Associates, specialists in training, compliance and competence. Email:
  • Using this CPD pageFor the vast majority of practitioners and indeed support and supervisory staff in our industry, CPD is about regular learning and study that is planned, recorded, timed and evaluated. If you are a member of a professional body with a CPD requirement then there will be certain rules regarding the quality and nature of study material, and the way in which it is recorded.For staff of GISC members this means recording on your individual training file what the learning was, who provided it and when.It might be structured, such as a course, a learning programme or exam study. But it can be unstructured. This form of study encompasses reading the trade press, technical material or taking part in activities to support your professional body. Some CPD requirements are points related (a little antiquated) and others require a time value to be allocated. For example, it might take one hour to read Insurance Times each week. Most of that could be put as a time value but, in reality, perhaps only an half hour was devoted to learning something. The rule is to be honest with yourself and record the time that is relevant. Always take time to make a note of what you felt you gained from the activity. This is useful information for anyone else considering the same activity.In response to the popularity of our CPD programme each week's CPD page can now be downloaded from our website.