Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mager's Instructional Objectives

I have previously read the 3rd edition of Mager's Preparing Instruction Objectives for R521. I found the reading engaging and amusing. While there are many times it can be tedious to complete reading for class, this was one time that I happily read the entire book! I greatly enjoyed his wit and the way he let the reader skip ahead if they understood the concept. (Who doesn't enjoy being rewarded for understanding a concept?!) But onto the summary and critique...

"Instruction is effective to the degree that it succeeds in:
  • changing students
  • in desired directions
  • and not in undesired directions" (p. 1).
In the very first sentence, a very unique expression of a sentence, Mager pierces the heart of his entire book. Objectives are meant to express the desired change in the learner's actions or knowledge that the instruction has triggered. A needs assessment occurs by the instructor determining (1) the students does not already possess the knowledge the instruction intends to impart and (2) instruction is the best way to impart said knowledge.

Objectives are: related to outcomes (not processes), specific and measurable, concerned with the learner (not the instructor). Objectives must be related to outcomes rather than processes. An outcome is an action the learner perform to demonstrate that the knowledge has been acquired.  A process is the formation of an attitude or principle that is not measurable. Objectives should be specific and measurable... so that we can measure the specific intended result of the instruction. In this instance, instructors should focus on overt behaviors and avoid the covert. Makes sense, eh? Lastly, objectives should be concerned with the learner and not the instructor. Objectives are for the learner, so that they know what is expected of them. Learners don't care what the teacher hopes to be able to achieve.

Objectives sometimes require a condition. Conditions specify the environment or tools the learner will or will not possess while performing the designated overt behavior. A degree refers to the acceptable performance, as denoted by the instructor for mastery of the objective.

As I previously stated, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Mager. I was an individual who formerly did not pay attention to objectives. I would read through a syllabus and completely skip the objectives section. I did not understand them and did not know how exactly they applied to me. If a learner is aware of the objectives, their participation may change because they know exactly what the intended outcomes of the course are. Overall, I found the reading helpful in determining if an objective is measurable or useless.


Mager, R.F. (1997). Preparing instructional objectives: A critical tool in the development of effective instruction.


  1. Since you mentioned 'measurable' at the end... in my previous IST class, I've learned that attitudinal objectives are difficult but still measurable - and this goes with Mager's view point - attitudinal objectives describe patterns of observable behaviour; in other words, 'performance'). There can also be different levels, just like receiving, responding and so on, to determine if the objective is reached. The two viewpoints from two different books connect!!


  2. I think that most student's don't really know about the objectives. I mean yes they are on the syllabus but they still might just skim over them you know? I was the same way in my undergrad, and never paid attention to the objectives so who should be in charge of informing students, the instructor, or should they know?

  3. I think objectives can show up in a couple of different guises. For the instructor/trainer (for example, in design documents or trainer guide materials) the language can be straight out of Mager: clear, precise and connected directly to content and assessments. When it comes to sharing the same information with the learners, I think we can more creative. A learner objective statement, while covering exactly the same ground as a Mager-stated objective, can be used to motivate participation or activate prior knowledge if it is, say, embedded in a story that the learner is challenged to respond to (contribute something, solve a problem, or simply state an opinion) BEFORE anything else happens. Then a "now here's what we're going to learn" type statement gets a more welcome reception. Or maybe I'm straying into discovery learning and constructivism where it seems that objectives have to be handled differently.

  4. I really like two of your comments here:
    "Learners don't care what the teacher hopes to be able to achieve." and "If a learner is aware of the objectives, their participation may change because they know exactly what the intended outcomes of the course are." In both cases, I think you're reflecting the concern we should have for learners and their role in the learning experience. I think Mager gives this a bit of short shrift, but learners shape the learning experience as much as -- possibly more, in some cases - the instructor. And it's extremely easy to lose sight of that and think: What do I need these folks to learn to do, and how can I get them to demonstrate it? Very teacher- centered. I think Mager would be richer if he were treat, overtly, the effect that learners have on objectives simply by virtue of being subjected to the learning. Good instructors will reshape the learning -- and the objectives -- based on what learners do and how they do it; learners' behavior will show the weaknesses in the objectives right off the bat. Mager needs to acknowledge that more directly in his next edition and devise strategies for accounting for it.