From Objectives to Outline

In the Create section, we discussed the importance of creating strong, measurable objectives. But what next? The transition between creating objectives and outlining can sometimes be a challenge. The following is one technique that can help make this process targeted and easier.

Tying your objectives to specific skills or knowledge pieces is the easiest way to structure your learning material. Look at your course objectives and consider them to be at the top of a hierarchy. Ask yourself what it would take for your students to successfully accomplish that objective. What things do they need to know? What skills do they need to be able to do?

You may be asking yourself, “What is the difference between knowledge and skills?” In practice both knowledge and skills are things you learn. The major difference is the depth to which you take that learning. A knowledge component is typically more general knowledge, but can be seen as a foundational piece on which to build other learning. A skill component is taken to a deeper level so that you can actively and measurably do something tangible with the learning. As an example:

Think about what level each of your objectives takes and annotate them as either a knowledge objective or a skill objective. You use this annotation in what follows to organize your objectives into a coherent learning flow. The process looks somewhat like this:

Graphical representation of process for organizing objectives into learning flow

If you have multiple objectives, break them up and perform these steps separately for each:

  1. Make a list of each piece of knowledge that a student needs to know to complete the objective.
    Some of the knowledge components may be repeated from the assumptions you made during the planning phase. This is fine; you can eliminate them later.
  2. Make a list of each thing the student must be able to do to complete the objective.
    Again you may have identified some of these skills during the planning process and so they may be listed in your assumptions. This makes it easy to know where you need to build content and what you assume the student brings with them.
  3. Identify the dependencies between the knowledge components and the skills needed.
    • Is there something they should know before they can acquire a skill?
    • Are there certain skills they should learn first in order to better grasp a later skill?
    • Are there skills and knowledge that are complementary; that is, ones that would help the student more easily learn or acquire skills?
    • Are there knowledge dependencies?
    • Are there skill dependencies?
  4. Rearrange your list so that the dependencies are listed in order.
  5. Review your assumptions from the planning phase.
    • Does your list contain knowledge that a student should know before taking your course? Cross those off.
    • Does your list contain skills that a student should have before taking your course? Cross those off as well.
  6. You should now have a list of chunked knowledge and skill pieces that a student needs to successfully complete your objective.
  7. Repeat for each objective.
  8. Once you’ve completed the proceeding steps for each objective, compare the lists from each objective and look for the following:
    • Some skills and knowledge pieces may be common across different objectives. This is to be expected.
    • Cross-check prerequisites across the various chunks and objectives and arrange like elements in a logical manner.
  9. Combine the lists.
    • Are there knowledge components that transcend the various objectives?
    • Are there complementary skills that go across different objectives?
    • Are there other dependencies in learning the material and acquiring the skills?
    • Identify these and do a final rearranging of your list. Combine elements where needed. Eliminate repeated pieces.

We recommend that you get a second set of knowledgeable eyes to take a look at your material and validate it. Does the flow make sense? Is there anything that was forgotten?