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What is goal-based learning?

October 3, 2012

In order to thrive in today’s tough economic climate, it’s no longer enough for your people to just ‘know stuff’. Learning needs to be focussed on performance and that’s where goal-based learning comes in.goals

Goal-based learning is an extension of Cathy Moore’s Action Mapping process, of which we’ve been firm advocates for a long time. It concentrates on developing real-world behaviours that will lead to performance improvement. Goal-based learning should not be top-down, instead it is very much focussed on empowering learners to take control of their own learning journeys, making them more able to respond to the changing requirements of their role. What organisation wouldn’t want a more agile workforce?

So, what’s the process?

  • Within a subject area, identify all the things that an expert in that subject  would do. These become the goals for that subject. Let’s take ‘communications’ as an example; goals might be:
    • Remember peoples’ names
    • Be a great listener
    • Get your point across effectively

It’s fine to have lots of goals within a subject so learners have plenty of choice so that the learning can be more accurately tailored to each learner’s specific needs.

  • Within each goal, you then design practice activities where learners can have a go at doing these things. For example, an activity for the ‘Be a great listener’ goal might be an active listening exercise or an exercise in removing distractions. Quite often, these will be the same sort of activities that might be done in a face-to-face workshop.
  • You then need to identify the knowledge that people would need to complete the practice activities and include this in the goal, you could do this as text, a video, a link to an existing piece of elearning or links to other relevant resources – but keep it short. Don’t overburden learners with un-necessary content.

Sounds good so far, and a lot like Action Mapping, but here’s the twist: how do your learners know which goals to focus on? A 360-degree survey is used to measure people’s ability with regard to each of the goals within the subject. The results of this will then identify which of the goals the learner should attempt and what areas they need to work on. After working towards goals for a while, the survey should be resent and the results compared to the first survey to measure performance improvement.

Goal-based learning works best when there is a mechanism to allow learners to connect socially and learn from each other. This is another difference to Action Mapping. This collaboration can be achieved using internal social networks or, if you use something like twitter, creating a #hashtag for each goal. Adopting a goal-based approach and making it social can really help to maximise the knowledge networks within your organisation.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 4, 2012 7:49 am

    Interesting post, but I’d like to see some examples of this 360-degree survey. Are you saying to do a pretest that’s also used as a posttest? It might not always be that easy to measure people’s abilities or are you suggesting that one would state the goal and they’d do an self-assessment of how much they’re meeting the goals already? Test vs Assessment?

    • October 5, 2012 2:00 pm

      Hi Henrik. Yes the same survey is used pre and post. So for example, if the goal was to ‘Manage effective meetings’ the survey question might be ‘How good is this person at managing meetings’. If you ask the people who attend your meetings to rate you anonymously you should get a useful indication of your ability. Working towards the goal for a while and resending the survey (to the same or different participants) should show a performance improvement. If it consistently doesn’t, this indicates a short-coming in your practice activities and content.

      • October 6, 2012 11:59 am

        Ah, yes! Easy as that of course. That’s what we and everyone else is doing for the course evaluations (learners evaluate teacher’s performance) already so that would of course be appliable also for other things! It’s good to have a well-known example though.

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