Recently, I went to see the circus for the first time in twenty years. Yes…I am an adult. And yes… I think I enjoyed the circus as much as the kids surrounding me. One of the most interesting/frustrating parts of my circus experience was how many different acts were presented simultaneously. Should I focus on the Chinese act or the Latin dancers? The acrobats or the little people? It was maddening to try to absorb and see everything going on around me. Even now when I think back on it, I only remember a blur of entertainment and portions of the main acts. But that’s okay…right? The circus’s goal wasn’t to have attendees remember each act, costume, or piece of trivia. Its purpose was to provide a magical experience.
Sometimes it can be tempting to entertain rather than train in a training course. While being entertained is fun, unlike the circus, the goal of a good training course should be to meet the course’s learning objectives. Without good learning objectives your training becomes like a family vacation where everyone gets in the car and just starts driving with no map, no GPS, no compass, and no real destination. If you are really lucky you might end up someplace exciting, but you could greatly increase your chances of success by choosing your destination ahead of time.
Good learning objectives serve as your course’s destination. They allow you to efficiently map out your route, help you determine what went wrong if you end up in an unexpected place, and assist you in weeding out extraneous side trips that, while entertaining, are probably irrelevant to reaching your destination.
But back to our circus analogy…like the circus, we want learners to walk away with a happy glow from a positive learning experience, but, unlike the circus, we don’t want to overload learners with extraneous sound, text, or graphics that can hinder retention and memory transfer. On the tightrope of training creation, instructional designers must constantly seek the balance between creating engaging content and staying true to the course’s learning objectives.