Performance Objective Pitfall

The Danger of Describe

If you’ve worked with me recently and turned in performance or learning objectives starting with “Describe…” you’ve most definitely gotten feedback from me questioning your choice. If you work with me sometime soon, you’ll know this is one of my pet peeves and be prepared for the questions!

Yes, I do realize Describe is an action verb. I’m also fully aware it’s on Bloom’s Taxonomy at the Knowledge AND Comprehension levels of Cognitive Domain. However, every time I see Describe at the beginning of an objective, I feel like Pitfall Harry circa 1982 headed toward one of the inevitable hazards in that classic Activision game. That’s right — Describe can be the quicksand or the tar pit or even the crocodile of the active learning game. There, I said it; I feel better now.

Why do I feel so strongly?

Well, it’s always about Performance First. And when Innovative Learning Group says Performance, we mean the performance of people; helping employees do their jobs more effectively. And I’m always willing to bet that when Describe is used, it’s most likely not as an action verb describing what the learner should be able to do differently as a result of taking the training. It’s more likely a description of what the content or the course or the facilitator is going to talk about as part of the learning event. Hear the difference?

I’m not saying never use Describe.

There could quite possibly be a performance expectation of being able to accurately describe something to someone else. In that case, I’d suggest popping it into a three-part learning objective format with conditions and criterion around the performance statement to see if Describe holds up. If not, I’m cautioning that Describe can quickly become as dangerous and unmeasurable as Understand. Understand is not active and observable; describe can be active and observable, but it’s a slippery slope…and that, my learning friends, is an entirely different blog.

Don’t be Pitfall Harry falling into the dangerous Describe = Understand = Quicksand.

Be Pitfall Harry relentlessly searching for bigger treasures in the Performance-First jungle. You’ll get better payoff starting at the Apply level of Bloom’s Taxonomy and using Knowledge and Comprehension as the supporting characters, not the stars of the game.

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