Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Meaningful goals & objectives should drive every presentation

The idea of incorporating goals and objectives into presentations has percolated fairly deeply into medical teaching tradition. Unfortunately, these goals and objectives are often superficial and meaningless, especially when they are not tied meaningfully to the presentation's content. Frequently in presentations, it's hard to tell the difference between stated goals and objectives, even though they should be quite distinct and serve different purposes.

Before I provide some examples, let's review for a moment what the purpose of educational objectives are:

  • Educational objectives describe the skills learners should possess after you finish your presentation.
  • Educational objectives also serve as the foundation of evaluating your presentation; you measure the success of your presentation based on how well your learners met your objectives.

High quality objectives are, therefore, precise and measurable. Objectives are not the same as goals; goals can be as pie-in-the-sky and impossible to measure as you like! Goals provide the emotional power to your presentation; typically, you won't share them with your audience, but they are the fuel for your presentation.

Here's an example. I gave an hour-long presentation on asthma to our residents recently, and the objectives were:
  1. Classify asthma severity using the EPR-3 guidelines.
  2. Calculate a peak flow %.
  3. Design appropriate treatment plans for your patients with asthma.
My unspoken goal was:
  • Train residents to recognize under-treated or undiagnosed asthma so affected patients don't suffer unnecessarily.

It would be very difficult to quantitatively measure the success of my goal; I would need to know, somehow, which cases of undiagnosed asthma they missed along with the ones they caught. That's completely unrealistic, which is okay - the goal provided me with the passion and energy I needed to get my learners excited and interested in this topic. Your learners can tell when you are not emotionally invested in the material you're teaching, and they won't learn as well without your enthusiasm.

On the other hand, measuring my objectives was easy, and I was able to do so by the end of my presentation. I observed all of our residents who were present work through clinical scenarios where they had to (1) classify asthma severity, (2) calculate peak flow %s, and (3) design treatment plans. Having these clinical scenarios (and the space to write out their answers) incorporated into the handout I provided them was essential to both this measurement and the residents' concrete application of what I taught them.

In summary:

Goal = mega-aspirational, pie-in-the-sky ideal result of your presentation that fuels your passion for the topic.

Objective = precise, measurable criteria that both point learners to your most important teaching points and allow you to measure the success of your presentation.

Bloom's taxonomy provides a great starting point for choosing high-quality verbs for your objectives; "understand" and "review" are fine for goals but have no place in a well-written objective (being neither precise nor measurable). Use Bloom's to connect your objective to the appropriate step of the taxonomy (do you want them to remember? comprehend? apply?) as discussed in my earlier post about interactive presentations.

Now, get out there and write some kick ass goals and objectives!

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