How to create an effective learning process and learn smart

Pedagogy – Best Practices – Technology

Effective teaching depends upon effective planning and design. The first step in preparing a high quality course is to clearly define your educational goals, which are the broad, overarching expectations for student learning and performance at the end of your course. (See The Innovative Instructor post: Writing Course Learning Goals) Next is to determine your learning objectives by writing explicit statements that describe what the student(s) will be able to do at the end of each class or course unit. This includes the concepts they need to learn, and the skills they need to acquire and be able to apply.

Developing learning objectives is part of the instructional design framework known as Backward Design, a student-centric approach that aligns learning objectives with assessment and instruction.

Clearly defined objectives form the foundation for selecting appropriate content, learning activities and assessment plans. Learning objectives help you to:

  • plan the sequence for instruction, allocate time to topics, assemble materials and plan class outlines.
  • develop a guide to teaching allowing you to plan different instructional methods for presenting different parts of the content. (e.g. small group discussions of a common misconception).
  • facilitate various assessment activities including assessing students, your instruction, and the curriculum.

Think about what a successful student in your course should be able to do on completion. Questions to ask are: What concepts should they be able to apply? What kinds of analysis should they be able to perform? What kind of writing should they be able to do? What types of problems should they be solving? Learning objectives provide a means for clearly describing these things to learners, thus creating an educational experience that will be meaningful.

Following are strategies for creating learning objectives.

I. Use S.M.A.R.T. Attributes

Learning objectives should have the following S.M.A.R.T. attributes.

Specific – Concise, well-defined statements of what students will be able to do.
Measurable – The goals suggest how students will be assessed. Start with action verbs that can be observed through a test, homework, or project (e.g., define, apply, propose).
Attainable – Students have the pre-requisite knowledge and skills and the course is long enough that students can achieve the objectives.
Relevant – The skills or knowledge described are appropriate for the course or the program in which the course is embedded.
Time-bound – State when students should be able to demonstrate the skill (end of the course, end of semester, etc.).

II. Use Behavioral Verbs

Another useful tip for learning objectives is to use behavioral verbs that are observable and measurable. Fortunately, Bloom’s taxonomy provides a list of such verbs and these are categorized according to the level of achievement at which students should be performing. (See The Innovative Instructor post: A Guide to Bloom’s Taxonomy) Using concrete verbs will help keep your objectives clear and concise.

Here is a selected, but not definitive, list of verbs to consider using when constructing learning objectives:

assemble, construct, create, develop, compare, contrast, appraise, defend, judge, support, distinguish, examine, demonstrate, illustrate, interpret, solve, describe, explain, identify, summarize, cite, define, list, name, recall, state, order, perform, measure, verify, relate

While the verbs above clearly distinguish the action that should be performed, there are verbs to avoid when writing a learning objective. The following verbs are too vague or difficult to measure:

appreciate, cover, realize, be aware of, familiarize, study, become acquainted with, gain knowledge of, comprehend, know, learn, understand, learn

III. Leverage Bloom’s Taxonomy

Since Blooms taxonomy establishes a framework for categorizing educational goals, having an understanding of these categories is useful for planning learning activities and writing learning objectives.

Examples of Learning Objectives

At end of the [module, unit, course] students will be able to…

… identify and explain major events from the Civil War. (American History)

… effectively communicate information, ideas and proposals in visual, written, and oral forms. (Marketing Communications)

… analyze kinetic data and obtain rate laws. (Chemical Engineering)

…interpret DNA sequencing data. (Biology)

…discuss and form persuasive arguments about a variety of literary texts produced by Roman authors of the Republican period. (Classics)

…evaluate the appropriateness of the conclusions reached in a research study based on the data presented. (Sociology)

…design their own fiscal and monetary policies. (Economics)

Additional Resources

  • Bloom, B., Englehart, M. Furst, E., Hill, W., & Krathwohl, D. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. Handbook I: Cognitive domain. New York, Toronto: Longmans, Green.
  • Writing learning objectives. http://sites.uci.edu/medsim/files/2015/03/Writing-learning-objectives.pdf

Richard Shingles, Lecturer, Biology Department

Richard Shingles is a faculty member in the Biology department and also works with the Center for Educational Resources at Johns Hopkins University. He is the Director of the TA Training Institute and The Summer Teaching Institute on the Homewood campus of JHU. Dr. Shingles also provides pedagogical and technological support to instructional faculty, post-docs and graduate students.

Images source: © Reid Sczerba, Center for Educational Resources, 2016

Making decisions is a fundamental life skill. Expecting to make perfect decisions all of the time is unreasonable. When even an ounce of luck is involved, good decisions can have bad outcomes. So our goal should be to raise the odds of making a good decision. The best way to do that is to use a good decision-making process.

We have found that even the most complex decision can be analysed and resolved by considering a set of eight elements. The first five—Problem, Objectives, Alternatives, Consequences, and Tradeoffs—constitute the core of our approach and are applicable to virtually any decision. The acronym for these—PrOACT—serves as a reminder that the best approach to decision situations is a proactive one. … The three remaining elements—uncertainty, risk tolerance, and linked decisions—help clarify decisions in volatile or evolving environments.

This framework can help you make better decisions. Of course, sometimes good decisions go wrong. A good decision, however, increases the odds of success.

There are eight keys to effective decision making.

Work on the right decision problem. … The way you frame your decision at the outset can make all the difference. To choose well, you need to state your decision problems carefully, acknowledging their complexity and avoiding unwarranted assumptions and option-limiting prejudices. …

Specify your objectives. … A decision is a means to an end. Ask yourself what you most want to accomplish and which of your interests, values, concerns, fears, and aspirations are most relevant to achieving your goal. … Decisions with multiple objectives cannot be resolved by focusing on any one objective.

Create imaginative alternatives. … Remember: your decision can be no better than your best alternative. …

Understand the consequences. … Assessing frankly the consequences of each alternative will help you to identify those that best meet your objectives—all your objectives. …

Grapple with your tradeoffs. Because objectives frequently conflict with one another, you’ll need to strike a balance. Some of this must sometimes be sacrifices in favor of some of that. …

Clarify your uncertainties. What could happen in the future and how likely is it that it will? …

Think hard about your risk tolerance. When decisions involve uncertainties, the desired consequence may not be the one that actually results. A much-deliberated bone marrow transplant may or may not halt cancer. …

Consider linked decisions. What you decide today could influence your choices tomorrow, and your goals for tomorrow should influence your choices today. Thus many important decisions are linked over time. …

Harvard Professor Max Bazerman, who has written extensively human misjudgment, suggests something very similar to this approach in his book Judgment in Management Decision Making when he explains the anatomy of decisions. Before we can fully understand judgment, we have to identify the components of the decision-making process that require it. Here are the six steps that Bazerman aruges you should take, either implicitly or explicitly, when applying a rational decision-making process.

1. Define the problem. (M)anagers often act without a thorough understanding of the problem to be solved, leading them to solve the wrong problem. Accurate judgment is required to identify and define the problem. Managers often err by (a) defining the problem in terms of a proposed solution, (b) missing a bigger problem, or (c) diagnosing the problem in terms of its symptoms. Your goal should be to solve the problem not just eliminate its temporary symptoms.

2. Identify the criteria. Most decisions require you to accomplish more than one objective. When buying a car, you may want to maximize fuel economy, minimize cost, maximize comfort, and so on. The rational decision maker will identify all relevant criteria in the decision-making process.

3. Weight the criteria. Different criteria will vary in importance to a decision maker. Rational decision makers will know the relative value they place on each of the criteria identified. The value may be specified in dollars, points, or whatever scoring system makes sense.

4. Generate alternatives. The fourth step in the decision-making process requires identification of possible courses of action. Decision makers often spend an inappropriate amount of search time seeking alternatives, thus creating a barrier to effective decision making. An optimal search continues only until the cost of the search outweighs the value of added information.

5. Rate each alternative on each criterion. How well will each of the alternative solutions achieve each of the defined criteria? This is often the most difficult stage of the decision-making process, as it typically requires us to forecast future events. The rational decision maker carefully assesses the potential consequences on each of the identified criteria of selecting each of the alternative solutions.

6. Compute the optimal decision. Ideally, after all of the first five steps have been completed, the process of computing the optimal decision consists of (a) multiplying the ratings in step 5 by the weight of each criterion, (b) adding up the weighted ratings across all of the criteria for each alternative, and (c) choosing the solution with the highest sum of weighted ratings.

Rational decision frameworks, such as those suggested above, are a great starting place. On top of that, we need to consider our psychological biases. And keep a decision journal.

Home › Blog › 6 Tips To Help Your Subject Matter Expert Create Effective eLearning Content

How to create an effective learning process and learn smart

How You Can Help Your Subject Matter Expert Create Effective eLearning Content

An experienced Subject Matter Expert is one of the most valuable assets you can have at your disposal. The key is knowing how to help them create an amazing eLearning course. In this article, I’ll share 6 top tips you can use to give your Subject Matter Expert the guidance they need to create effective online training courses.

Your Subject Matter Experts may be in charge of identifying the key takeaways and narrowing the scope of your eLearning course material. However, that doesn’t mean they have to go it alone. In fact, there are a variety of ways that Instructional Designers can help their Subject Matter Experts create more effective and engaging eLearning content. Not only will this speed up the eLearning development process, but it also boosts the benefits your audience is going to receive. Here are 6 tips and techniques for offering a helping hand to your Subject Matter Expert.

  1. Be clear about expectations and objectives.
    As is the case with any professional, a Subject Matter Expert must have a clear idea of what’s expected of them before the eLearning project begins. They must also be certain of the shared goals and objectives of the eLearning course. This is why it’s essential to have a discussion with them in advance to let them know their job responsibilities and how they fit into the eLearning development team. It’s also wise to talk about deadlines and milestones, so that they can be aware of when each step of the process must be completed. If they are left in the dark about all of these key issues, then they are likely to become frustrated or discouraged by the experience because they’ve been left out of the loop. You may even want to provide your Subject Matter Expert with examples of what you have in mind, and definitely get their feedback and address any concerns they might have.
  2. Work together to create a successful eLearning strategy.
    Your Subject Matter Expert should be an integral part of your eLearning team. In fact, you should have them on hand when making any major decisions about the eLearning project, especially if it pertains to the training courses and online activities. Keep in mind that the Subject Matter Expert can offer you a wealth of information about the topic, which can then pass onto your audience. However, if you don’t work together to develop a winning eLearning strategy, then you are missing out on a big opportunity. Your Subject Matter Expert should also know as much as possible about your online learners, such as their background, as well as what they need to take away from the eLearning experience.
  3. Focus on how learners can use the information to achieve eLearning goals.
    One of the most significant obstacles that Subject Matter Experts face when developing eLearning content is differentiating between the information learners need in the real world and information that might be good to know. Stress the importance of creating eLearning content that centers on goal achievement and real life challenges. Focusing on extraneous info that is not necessarily in-line with the overall goals of the eLearning course can also lead to cognitive overload. This prevents the learners from absorbing and retaining the key pieces of knowledge, which diminishes the value of the eLearning course. Have a discussion with your Subject Matter Expert about each of the learning objectives to be covered and how the eLearning content, activities, and online assessments are going to further those goals.
  4. Ask them to step inside the shoes of the learner.
    It can be easy to distance yourself from the eLearning experience, itself, when you are trying to create an eLearning course. However, it is important for Subject Matter Experts to occasionally step inside the shoes of the learners and see things from their perspective. Encourage them to take a close look at all of the eLearning content and online resources as if they were actually taking the eLearning course. Does the eLearning content give them the information they need in a timely manner? Does it focus on the specific skills they require in their personal and professional lives? Are there areas of the eLearning course that may be confusing or difficult to understand?
  5. Make the learners work for the information.
    In some instances, a Subject Matter Expert may simply offer the learner information outright, rather than making them search for it in the eLearning content. In other words, they don’t make them work for the knowledge and skill development. Encourage your Subject Matter Experts to focus onknowledge discovery instead of knowledge presentation. For example, they can include thought provoking questions or online scenarios that allow leaners to explore the situation and how their actions lead to consequences. If a learner is able to find the information on their own they are more likely to remember and recall it in their “moment of need”.
  6. Remind them that learners do not need to become Subject Matter Experts.
    A learner does not need to become an expert in the topic, unless, of course, that is the objective of the eLearning course. Instead, they need to be able to carry out a task or expand their knowledge base within a limited scope. They also don’t have a great deal of time to engage in the eLearning experience, which means that you need to focus on what’s really important. The Subject Matter Expert has a vast amount of experience in the field, but they need to bear in mind that learners simply need to remember the key takeaways and achieve their goals.

Helping your Subject Matter Expert to create more effective eLearning content for your eLearning course is a win-win situation for everyone. You can use these 6 tips to make your design and development process productive, and to support your Subject Matter Expert to the best of your ability. Remember, a great Subject Matter Expert is worth their weight in gold, and offering them the guidance they need can foster a long lasting eLearning partnership.

Looking for additional tips on to work with Subject Matter Experts? Read the article Working With Subject Matter Experts: The Ultimate Guide to learn how build a respectful working relationship with Subject Matter Experts in order to facilitate your eLearning design and development process.

How to create an effective learning process and learn smart

How To Engage And Inspire Adult Learners

Designing eLearning deliverables that motivate and engage adult learners can be challenging. However, creating top notch eLearning deliverables that cater to adult learners comes with its own unique set of challenges. The good news is that there are a number of tips and techniques that can help you to create meaningful educational experiences for adult learners, which can be applied to eLearning courses and online training events.

  1. Make it relevant!
    Adult learners need to be able to see the relevancy of what they are learning. How is this eLearning course going to offer them the skill sets they need to improve their work performance? How is the online training event you’re developing going to give them the information they need to master a particular task? When designing eLearning deliverables for adult learners, you have to keep in mind that the content has to be relevant, or else they will not be able see the real value in the educational experience you’re providing. While you are writing each block of text or choosing the perfect graphics and images, think about how these are going to serve the primary learning goals and objectives.
  2. Include activities and assignments that encourage adult learners to explore.
    Adult learners accumulate knowledge most effectively when they are active participants in their own learning process. Design activities or assignments that encourage them to explore a subject matter on their own and learn from personal experience. Pose a question or problem and then ask them to arrive at a solution on their own, or place them in groups and have them collaborate in order to discuss the issue at length and benefit from one another’s experience and skill sets. When they acquire knowledge on their own, they get inspired to pursue other avenues of self study and online education, and to become more fully engaged in the eLearning environment.
  3. Consider the experience and educational background of the adult learners.
    Adult learners have typically gathered more life experienced and accumulated a broader knowledge base than younger students. As such, when you’re designing your eLearning deliverables for adult audiences, you’ll want to take their experience and educational background into account. In other words, it is of high importance to assess your audience carefully. What is the highest level of education they’ve completed? Which particular tasks are they usually asked to perform while at work? Do they already know the technical jargon that is commonly used in their profession?

Keep in mind this list of tips to engage adult learners, in order to create truly inspirational and powerful eLearning deliverables. However, if you are looking for additional tips on motivating adult learners, I suggest you to also read the article 17 Tips To Motivate Adult Learners.

If you’d like to learn more about the traits of adult learners, the article Important Characteristics Of Adult Learners offers an informative look at 8 important characteristics that you’ll want to keep in mind while designing eLearning courses for adult audiences.

Last but not least, I highly encourage you to read the article 9 Tips To Apply Adult Learning Theory to eLearning which discusses how Knowles’ 5 adult learning theory assumptions can be translated to modern day eLearning experiences, and how you can integrate the 4 principles of Andragogy into your eLearning course for maximum learner engagement and motivation.

How to create an effective learning process and learn smart

Christopher Kimmel / Getty Images

How to create an effective learning process and learn smart

  • B.A., English, St. Olaf College

The term “SMART goals” was coined by in 1954. Since then, SMART goals have become popular with business managers, educators and others because they work. The late management guru Peter F. Drucker developed the concept.

Background

Drucker was a management consultant, professor and the author of 39 books. He influenced many top executives in his long career. Management by objectives was one of his primary business theories. Effectiveness, he said, is the foundation of business, and the way to achieve it is to gain agreement between management and employees on the business’s objectives.

In 2002, Drucker received the highest civilian honor in the U.S.—the Medal of Freedom. He died in 2005 at age 95. Instead of creating a Drucker legacy from his archives, Drucker’s family decided to look forward instead of backward, and they gathered distinguished business people to form The Drucker Institute.

“Their mandate,” states the institute’s website, “was to transform the archival repository into a social enterprise whose purpose is to strengthen society by igniting effective, responsible and joyful management.” Though Drucker was for years a successful business professor at Claremont Graduate University, the institute helped to show how his management ideas—including SMART goals—could be applied to other areas, such as public and adult education.

Goals for Success

If you have been to a business management class, you have likely have learned how to write goals and objectives in Drucker’s way: SMART. If you haven’t heard about Drucker, you are in for a treat that will help you achieve what you want and be more successful, whether you are a teacher trying to help your students achieve, an adult learner or a person who seeks to achieve your dreams.

SMART goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

Writing SMART Goals

Writing SMART goals for yourself or your students is a simple process if you understand the acronym and how to apply the steps it prescribed, as follows:

  1. “S” stands for specific. Make your goal or objective as specific as possible. Say exactly what you want to achieve in clear, concise words.
  2. “M” stands for measurable. Include a unit of measure in your goal. Be objective rather than subjective. When will your goal be achieved? How will you know it has been achieved?
  3. “A” stands for achievable. Be realistic. Ensure that your goal is feasible in terms of the resources available to you.
  4. “R” stands for realistic. Focus on the end results you desire rather than the activities necessary to get there. You want to grow personally, so reach for your goal—but be reasonable or you’ll set yourself up for disappointment.
  5. “T” stands for time-bound. Give yourself a deadline within a year. Include a timeframe such as a week, month or year, and include a specific date if possible.

Examples and Variations

A few examples of properly written SMART goals might be helpful here:

  • Research tuition reimbursement and enroll in a degree program before the next employee review period.
  • Complete a continuing education course in using spreadsheet software by June 1.

You will sometimes see SMART with two As—as in SMAART. In that case, the first A stands for attainable and the second for action-oriented. This is just another way to encourage you to write goals in a way that inspires you to actually make them happen. As with any good writing, craft your goal or objective in an active, rather than passive, voice. Use an action verb near the beginning of the sentence, and ensure that your goal is stated in terms you can actually attain. As you achieve each goal, you will be capable of more, and in that way, grow.

Personal development is often one of the first things to get deleted from the priority list when life gets hectic. Give your personal goals and objectives a fighting chance by writing them down. Make them SMART, and you’ll have a much better chance of attaining them.

Recently we’ve been sharing a lot of interesting learning experiences in our chat room. Videos for learning new languages, a game that explains how neurons work, and playing with VR journalist pieces using Google cardboard. Some of them genuinely feel like innovative approaches to learning, others – click here, read this, click there, read more. There’s no life to them. So we asked ourselves, what makes a learning experience great?

We found that while it’s easy to identify learning experiences that feel great, it’s a lot harder to deconstruct why they feel great. For us, understanding the why is a core part of our design process. It allows our team to constantly push for better, and to develop our own standard of what makes a learning experience exceptional. Most importantly to us, without understanding the why, we can’t incorporate these great elements from one project into another. We need to cultivate a shared language of what makes learning experiences great, in practical, non-abstract terms.

Whilst our team had lots of different perspectives on this, we managed to get consensus on three key elements which make a great learning experience:

A great learning experience adds value to the learner

This means we are helping them understand something they couldn’t before, it’s easy to use, and well-crafted. The entire experience should feel purposeful, and put the needs of the learner first.

A great learning experience focuses on being effective first

If it’s not effective, then it’s failed at being a learning experience. Being visually rich, interactive, and enjoyable are all important, but they should be used to enrich the learning, not to substitute it.

A great learning experience promotes further learning

Learning just to pass an exam is the saddest outcome education can have. We think great learning experiences should inspire our students to become lifelong learners, and encourage them to pursue education beyond just the course we are creating.

These are just some starting points, but we’ll be discussing one new element every week over the next few months. In the meantime, we’d love to hear what the community thinks. What do you think makes a learning experience great? What elements do you use in your own work? We’d love to know your answers – reach out to us on Twitter, or join the conversation on LinkedIn.

How to create an effective learning process and learn smart

Dominic Sebastian

I’m a designer obsessed with how a good creative process can lead to more considered outcomes. Working for Smart Sparrow in our Sydney office, I lead the design on our product and marketing, whilst working closely with our Learning Design Studio teams. Before Smart Sparrow, I was working in Rio de Janeiro on UX strategy for a local publishers, and before that I was Head of Design for Augmented Reality specialists Digicave, London.

You wouldn’t hand a new high school graduate the keys to a Tesla and let them go, but this is an exaggerated equivalent of some company new hire training programs. Learning how to train new employees effectively is the cornerstone of success for any company. This post is your guide to better and more effective new hire training. Keep reading to learn more.

Why is a new hire training program necessary?

It’s a common mistake that even the most successful businesses make: not formally training new employees.

Some companies believe that new employees will learn as they go, on the job, foregoing a new hire training program. While there is plenty of space for on-the-job training, knowing how to train new employees effectively means happier employees and better retention rates.

Consider that 20% of workers in the U.S leave their job within 45 days of hire (with that number skyrocketing to 50% in the retail sector).

According to some estimates, the cost of replacing employees who make $30,000 a year or less is 16% of their annual salary. But for higher-level employees, those making over $75,000, that number can be 20% of their annual salary or higher. So, once you find the best employees for your team, you want to keep them there. And, following some best practices for employee onboarding is one of the most effective ways to do so.

  • 91% of employees stick around for at least a year when organizations have efficient onboarding processes
  • 69% of them stick around for at least three years when companies have well-structured onboarding programs

How to create an effective learning process and learn smart

Now imagine that 91% of your employees stay for at least a year and 69% are still going strong after three years. What does that mean for your bottom line? Your company culture?

How to train new employees effectively

Developing a solid new hire training program is an important management skill. More than just showing new employees where the coffee maker is and how to get their parking permit, training new employees procedures helps employees settle into the rhythm of the company to focus on the most important thing: their job.

While your exact onboarding tasks may differ, these best practices for employee onboarding help you get your employees up-to-speed, whether they’re hourly, C-suite, or anywhere in between. And, they’re just as useful for in-office and remote employees. This is how to put together your new hire training program:

  1. Establish your new employee procedures, beforehand
  2. Ensure that all managers use a new hire training checklist
  3. Start onboarding before day one
  4. Include onboarding best practices into your procedures
  5. Train for culture, not just topics
  6. Build in regular reviews and adjustments to your training program

Let’s look at each of these in more detail.

1. Establish your new employee procedures

Before you begin developing a new hire training program, you need to know where you are going. If your company has never identified exactly what each new employee should know, now’s the time to do it.

Putting together new employee procedures helps you to articulate the what, why, when, and how to train new employees effectively. There are five easy steps to this process.

  • Identify tasks or procedures employees need to know and break these into steps: Make these tasks and steps as concrete as possible, and have another person who isn’t in the role check for clarity.
  • Identify the best person to complete the training: Not everyone can train every employee for every skill. Choose the best person for the job.
  • Allocate resources: supplies and time: Training new hires is essential. Providing adequate tools and time to learn new procedures and practices (or not!) can make or break your new hire training program. You simply can’t expect existing employees to fit training into an already-packed schedule.
  • Train: This one word encompasses a range of activities, from online training to microlearning to hands-on practice. Identify the best way to deliver the information for the best chance of success.
  • Check for understanding: It’s not enough to just offer the information and hope it sticks. Check employee understanding after training by tailoring employee assignments to the training they received. This helps you to know if employees feel confident in what they have learned or if they need more information.

2. Ensure that all managers use a new hire training checklist

It’s easy to forget where each employee is in the onboarding process. Creating a new employee checklist can help.

This new hire checklist can include:

  • Sending a welcome email with first-day practical things like parking and dress code (as we’ll discuss next)
  • Making sure office space is cleared, stocked, and ready
  • Pairing the new employee with a mentor
  • Developing an individualized training plan
  • Identifying priority topics employee needs training on
  • Planning check-in meetings to help new employees feel supported

Checklists make life easier to manage, and a new employee training checklist is no different. The best employee onboarding checklists start before an employee walks in on their first day and can continue for up to six month or a year after they start. Your team may already have a checklist in place, or you can find inspiration in some online employee onboarding checklist templates from:

Your team may already have a checklist in place, or you can find inspiration in some online employee onboarding checklist templates from SmartSheet or Process Street.

How to create an effective learning process and learn smart

Christopher Kimmel / Getty Images

How to create an effective learning process and learn smart

  • B.A., English, St. Olaf College

The term “SMART goals” was coined by in 1954. Since then, SMART goals have become popular with business managers, educators and others because they work. The late management guru Peter F. Drucker developed the concept.

Background

Drucker was a management consultant, professor and the author of 39 books. He influenced many top executives in his long career. Management by objectives was one of his primary business theories. Effectiveness, he said, is the foundation of business, and the way to achieve it is to gain agreement between management and employees on the business’s objectives.

In 2002, Drucker received the highest civilian honor in the U.S.—the Medal of Freedom. He died in 2005 at age 95. Instead of creating a Drucker legacy from his archives, Drucker’s family decided to look forward instead of backward, and they gathered distinguished business people to form The Drucker Institute.

“Their mandate,” states the institute’s website, “was to transform the archival repository into a social enterprise whose purpose is to strengthen society by igniting effective, responsible and joyful management.” Though Drucker was for years a successful business professor at Claremont Graduate University, the institute helped to show how his management ideas—including SMART goals—could be applied to other areas, such as public and adult education.

Goals for Success

If you have been to a business management class, you have likely have learned how to write goals and objectives in Drucker’s way: SMART. If you haven’t heard about Drucker, you are in for a treat that will help you achieve what you want and be more successful, whether you are a teacher trying to help your students achieve, an adult learner or a person who seeks to achieve your dreams.

SMART goals are:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound

Writing SMART Goals

Writing SMART goals for yourself or your students is a simple process if you understand the acronym and how to apply the steps it prescribed, as follows:

  1. “S” stands for specific. Make your goal or objective as specific as possible. Say exactly what you want to achieve in clear, concise words.
  2. “M” stands for measurable. Include a unit of measure in your goal. Be objective rather than subjective. When will your goal be achieved? How will you know it has been achieved?
  3. “A” stands for achievable. Be realistic. Ensure that your goal is feasible in terms of the resources available to you.
  4. “R” stands for realistic. Focus on the end results you desire rather than the activities necessary to get there. You want to grow personally, so reach for your goal—but be reasonable or you’ll set yourself up for disappointment.
  5. “T” stands for time-bound. Give yourself a deadline within a year. Include a timeframe such as a week, month or year, and include a specific date if possible.

Examples and Variations

A few examples of properly written SMART goals might be helpful here:

  • Research tuition reimbursement and enroll in a degree program before the next employee review period.
  • Complete a continuing education course in using spreadsheet software by June 1.

You will sometimes see SMART with two As—as in SMAART. In that case, the first A stands for attainable and the second for action-oriented. This is just another way to encourage you to write goals in a way that inspires you to actually make them happen. As with any good writing, craft your goal or objective in an active, rather than passive, voice. Use an action verb near the beginning of the sentence, and ensure that your goal is stated in terms you can actually attain. As you achieve each goal, you will be capable of more, and in that way, grow.

Personal development is often one of the first things to get deleted from the priority list when life gets hectic. Give your personal goals and objectives a fighting chance by writing them down. Make them SMART, and you’ll have a much better chance of attaining them.

If managed well, these teams can help teachers innovate in the classroom and improve student outcomes.

How to create an effective learning process and learn smart

Many teachers work to guide students to take academic risks that will help them learn. Can schools apply that idea to teacher learning as well?

The answer may be found in the collaboration achieved in professional learning communities (PLCs). PLCs—which harness “an ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve”—are a common and proven practice to promote teacher collaboration that increases student achievement.

However, it is possible to fall into collaborative work that stifles innovation. This can happen, for example, if PLCs focus too heavily on common assessments and a common understanding of what students are learning, leading to common everything—students getting the same lesson plan in each class. I’ve heard administrators use the term “common experience” when setting expectations for teaching and learning. That strikes me as going too far.

Although this is grounded in wanting to ensure student success through consistency, it can stifle innovation, and one of the purposes of a PLC is to try out new strategies. The PLC is designed for teacher learning, and thus the team must balance risk taking and teacher autonomy with shared expectations for student learning. It’s important that teachers in a team have that clear understanding of purpose so that everyone feels safe to take risks.

A learning team constantly engages in a cycle of learning: analyzing data, setting goals, and learning individually and collaboratively, as well as implementing and adjusting practices to meet the needs of all learners. This process allows teachers to try new teaching practices and discover what’s working and what isn’t.

Determining Common Learning and Assessments

In PLCs, the fundamental questions teachers explore are: “What do we want students to learn?” and “How will we know if they have learned it?” These questions are foundational to any PLC, as they require teachers to come to a common understanding of the learning as well as common assessments that check for understanding.

PLC make this happen by prioritizing standards using specific criteria and then unpacking those standards, analyzing the nouns and verbs in the standards to understand which skills and concepts students will need to learn in order to be successful. Teachers identify what is hard to teach and what is hard to learn in the standards so that they can anticipate interventions and extensions.

It’s important to note that parts of this process call for tight alignment between teachers and don’t allow for the creativity and autonomy teachers may be used to. In order to achieve success for students, we do need some common practices. However, by agreeing as a team on what should be tightly aligned, we can set the stage for teacher autonomy and exploration of the art of teaching and instructional practice.

Making Space for Innovation

A PLC is constantly trying out new strategies to improve student learning, so individuals within the team must be given space to innovate. This is where the PLC should be only loosely aligned.

Teachers can never know what teaching works best for their students unless they are given the freedom to try out new strategies. PLCs can make this happen by having teachers collect evidence from common assessments and using data protocols to determine which strategies were most effective.

Ensuring That Teams Work Effectively

Sam Kaner coined the term Groan Zone to describe the space between a problem being posed and a solution being reached, and he described the divergent and convergent thinking that occurs there. Sometimes teachers in a PLC are afraid to engage in conflict or explore different ideas, worrying that even productive conflict signals that one is “not a team player.” Conversely, teachers may feel pressured to get work done and feel they don’t have time to spend in conflict.

But productive conflict can allow us to build better ideas and stronger teams, and PLCs should embrace productive conflict and create a space for it in order to innovate. PLCs can make this happen with clear norms as well as protocols to ensure that all voices are heard and that it is safe to engage in this conflict. It’s also helpful to make sure the projected outcome of a meeting is clear: Are we “generating ideas” or “making a decision”? This clarity can make space for open conversation.

PLCs need strong facilitators in order to engage in conversations that promote learning, risk taking, and innovation. However, the facilitators or leaders of those teams may be torn between advocating for ideas and managing the complex process of moving the team forward. This can lead to situations where team members have a facilitator who is strongly advocating for an idea rather than allowing for all voices to be heard, and team members may not feel safe to speak up or take risks. If facilitators need to advocate, they should select someone else to facilitate, in order to continue to balance advocacy for new ideas against team consensus and integration.

I recommend clear decision-making process like the Gradients of Agreement structure, which allows for decision making that honors the Groan Zone and divergent thinking while still moving toward convergent thinking and consensus decision-making.

PLCs are the lifeblood of innovation and risk taking in school. When structured well, they can be teams that constantly learn together and work to discover what is best for students.