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Developing Goals and Objectives


Narrow the Focus

Once the kind of training that is needed has been determined, it is equally important to determine what kind of training is not needed. Employees should be made aware of all the steps involved in a task or procedure, but the training should focus only with those steps on which improved performance is needed. This avoids unnecessary training and tailors the training to meet the needs of the employees.

Determining what the learner needs to know and do should be developed before the training session. Writing goals and objectives will help make sure your training is appropriate and useful to the learner. Effective goals and objectives help ensure training stays on track so that learners gain the specific knowledge and skills required. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z490.1 guidelines require goals and objectives be written for safety training.

In this module, we'll define goals and objectives, and discuss the steps in writing effective learning objectives which are important when developing both instruction and training.

Goals and Objectives: What's the Difference?

One of the most important, yet for some, the most difficult activities in the training process is writing clear-cut, competency-based learning objectives that describe what the learner will be able to do at the end of the training session. Some trainers believe goals and objectives are basically the same thing; not so. Let's take a look.

What is a Goal?

A goal is nothing more than a wish. We've all stated goals like, "I wish I could lose some weight," from time to time. Goals are broad in the sense that they state general intentions. They are not specific enough to be measured. Objectives, on the other hand, are narrow and are set for certain tasks in particular. (More on objectives soon.)

Goals are appropriate for general safety instruction because this type of training does not require measurement of observable, measurable outcomes.

Goals are normally unnecessary when developing specific technical safety training because they are too general in nature and therefore, insufficient.

Technical safety training that teaches safety procedures requires written objectives to make sure employees are proficient. Otherwise, they might be injured or killed!

There are two basic types of goals:

A training goal is a general statement about what the trainer wants to do. It states how the trainer will achieve the intended outcome of training. Training goals might be stated in an instructor guide, but not in the student workbook or handout. For instance, training goals might look like this:

  • Talk about the company's hazard reporting procedures
  • Introduce students to confined space entry requirements

Notice that the examples state what the trainer will do: they use action verbs.

A learning goal, on the other hand, is a general statement about what the trainer wants each student to know and/or do. It summarizes what the learner, not the trainer, will know or be able to do. Learning goals would be included in the student workbook or handout. For instance:

  • Understand hazard reporting procedures
  • Gain a greater awareness of confined space entry
  • Perform first aid procedures

Notice here, that the first two examples above describe what the learner will know. They use passive verbs (understand, gain awareness). The second example uses an action verb to describe what the student will do. It's important to "know" the difference.

What's an Objective?


A training objective is a specific statement describing what the trainer is going to do during or immediately after training. For instance, a training objective might state:

  • During the first hour of the training session, the trainer, given a full-face respirator, will discuss and perform each step of the respirator don-doff procedure.
  • By the end of class, the instructor will use a real-world scenario to discuss and present examples for each step in conducting root cause analysis.

A learning objective is a specific statement describe what the learners will know and/or be able to do after training. It describes results, rather than the means of achieving those results. It defines expectations for the learner. Here are some examples:

  • By the end of the class, each student, when given a full-face respirator, will be able to correctly perform all steps of the don-doff procedure.
  • By the end of training, the learner will be able to discuss at least two advantages of conducting incident analysis when asked by the trainer.

In this module, we primarily focus on a discussion of learning objectives.

Importance of Learning Objectives

It's very important that we write learning objectives clearly so that both trainers and learners understand what the learner is expected to do at the end of training. Writing learning objectives is required by ANSI Z490.1 guidelines when hazardous procedures and practices are taught. Virtually all technical safety training requires testing. Because employees must be tested, learning objectives are necessary to design specific measures and standards into training.

Effective learning objectives also:

  • help the instructor design and select instructional content and procedures
  • help the instructor organize the learner's own efforts and activities
  • help the instructor evaluate or assess the success of instruction

The ABC'S of a Learning Objective

An effective learning objective describes outcomes in terms of observable, measurable behaviors. They should be based on an objective needs analysis, not on conjecture or existing trainer guides. The objective should specify the knowledge, skills, and abilities (SKAs) that make performing the task possible. To make sure your learning objectives are clear and concise, be sure include each of the four components: Audience, Behavior, Conditions, and Standard.

Let's use the following example to get a better idea about the four parts of an effective objective. The numbers within the objective refer to the related criteria discussed below:

At the end of the training session, (1) each student (2) will list (3) without help (4) all steps of the accident investigation procedure in proper order.

Now, Let's take a look at the four components in the above learning objective:

  1. The objective identifies the audience.

  2. Example: "each student"

  3. Next, the objective should describe a behavior. The behavior is the "action" component that must be observable and measurable.
  4. Example: "will list" More examples.

  5. The objective should describe the conditions under which performance is measured.
  6. Example: "without help"

    The student may or may not be assisted as a condition under which they must perform. The condition specifies constraints, limitations, and resources such as tools, working aids, assistance, supervision, and physical environment is given to the learner to perform.

  7. The objective should specify an acceptable standard of performance. It's important to clearly state how well the student must perform. Establish quantitative and qualitative criteria for acceptable performance.
  8. Criteria should describe how well the learner must perform such as:

    • Written exam - complete a multiple choice test in terms of percent correct
    • Oral exam - discuss key elements
    • Skill demonstration - perform steps of a task

    Example: "all steps...in proper order. "

Developing Objectives


James Evans', 1961 NSPI paper, Behavioral Objectives Are No Damn Good, recommends that the trainer work backwards to develop objectives by first developing the performance test, then writing the learning objectives. The following approach outlines this simplified procedure for writing learning objectives.

Step 1: Complete a simulated task analysis

Picture in your mind the job environment, materials, and events so you have an understanding of the job to be performed. (An actual Job Hazard/Safety Analysis would be better if possible.)

Step 2: Identify performance requirements

Identify the specific things the employee is required to do in order to perform the job in question. These specific "performance items" should be written down in preparation for developing the criterion test.

Step 3: Develop a criterion test

The criterion test should have a direct relationship to the performance requirements of the job. It should also require the actual behavior that we want the learners to be able to perform. If we want them to be able to explain, the criterion test item should ask for an explanation. For instance: If we want them to be able to properly use a respirator, the test should tell them to inspect it, and so on.

In developing a criterion test there are three areas of concern:

  1. What questions do we want the learner to be able to answer, and what are the minimum critical components of an acceptable answer?
  2. What problems do we want the learner to be able to solve, and what are the critical components of an acceptable solution?
  3. What actions or tasks do we want the learner to be able to carry out, and what are the critical components of acceptable action?


Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. Which of the following statements is considered a good example of a training goal?

2. Which of the following statements is considered a good example of a learning goal?

3. Which of the four components of a learning objective is missing from the following statement?

"At the end of training, when asked by the instructor, the student will know all steps of the oil spill cleanup procedure."

4. Which of the four components of a learning objective is missing from the following statement?

"At the end of training, each employee will be able to select the most appropriate respirator for the task."

5. Which of the four components of a learning objective is missing from the following statement?

"At the end of training, when presented with a requirement to perform a simulated lockout/tagout procedure, each employee will be able to perform the procedure."

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.