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Planning adult education programs: Start with objectives

Originated by: Laura Wilson

Submitted: 26 Jul 2012

Last updated on: 26 Jul 2012

Related Health Topics: Assessment, Learning styles


Program objectives and learning objectives can sound as though they are the same. However, for healthcare providers who are planning educational programs for their constituents (patients, care partners, members of the public), it can help to distinguish the two and use them to effectively formulate plans and measure program outcomes.

Program objectives focus on the offering

Program objectives are meant to provide statements of what you anticipate the results of your educational effort to be. They serve as the foundation for the learning objectives and the instructional plans. Program objectives focus on the learning that individuals, groups or communities will achieve. They can be written from the point of view of what the program will do. Developing these objectives can help you prioritize ideas and focus the content on what can reasonably be learned during an educational session. Ideally, these objectives are based on information gathered from your needs assessment.

Example of a program objective
The Preparing for Transplant class will provide participants with information about:

  • The process for acceptance on the transplant waiting list
  • The medication regimen post-transplant
  • Protection from infection following surgery

Learning objectives focus on the participant

Conversely, learning objective focus on what individual participants will gain as a result of the program. They identify the discrete knowledge and skills they will develop through their participation. They are typically written in the format of “who” (the learner”), “how” (action verb) and “what” (the content).

Learning objectives can be categorized into 5 major areas:

  • Acquiring knowledge, such as learning about a particular disease state
  • Enhancing cognitive skills, such as analyzing risks and benefits of particular medical treatments
  • Developing psychomotor skills, such as operating a medical device
  • Strengthening problem-solving abilities, such as how to find credible information about a health topic
  • Changing attitudes, beliefs and/or feelings, such as how to enhance quality of life despite a challenging condition

Using these categories can help you determine what learning activities will help participants gain the knowledge and skills you identified in the program objectives.


After participating in the Preparing for Transplant class, participants will be able to:

  • Identify 3 steps to take for acceptance on the waiting list (Knowledge)
  • Organize a pillbox following a sample medication schedule (Cognitive)
  • Demonstrate thorough hand-washing technique for infection control (Psychomotor)

Basing measurement on objectives

Ideally, learning objectives are written in measurable terms so that the evaluation process can determine that objectives were met. For example, real-time feedback occurs when facilitators ask participants to answer knowledge questions or demonstrate what they have learned. Quizzes can be embedded in digital learning activities. More formal pre- and post-test measures help program organizers determine if participants learned content described in the objectives.


Book: Caffarella, R S. Planning programs for adult learners: A practical guide for educators, trainers and staff developers. 2nd edition.


White paper: Arreola R. Writing learning Objectives

White paper: Arreola R. Writing learning Objectives. University of Tennessee, Memphis

Writing Learning Objectives

Article: Ferguson, LM. Writing Learning Objectives. Journal of Nursing Staff Development. Volume 14, Number 2, pp 87-94, 18988.

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