The famous instructional incantation, “At the end of this module you will be able to…” sounds daring, but is dishonest unless most learners really will be able to do what’s being taught. Metaphorically speaking, setting up a tightrope across the Grand Canyon with a sign reading, “at the end of this cable you will have reached the other side”, doesn’t mean anyone will actually successfully cross the gap.
There is a belief that if objectives are written in extreme, pedantic detail, i.e. how long it’ll take, detailed performance specs, etc., learners will surely succeed. But while detail is good, going overboard may be of limited value outside legal necessity and/or dangerous or otherwise mission critical activities, i.e. bomb disposal.
Further, once you load up an objective with that much detail, how do you know which piece is or isn’t working? If I eat a triple bacon mushroom jalapeno cheddar cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato and pickle, I know it’s going to make me fat, but which part is guilty? In design of a course, and the continuous improvement that follows, it’s useful to know what’s working and what’s not. For that reason, I prefer to break complex design documentation into granular bits at multiple levels.
The important thing about design docs is to write them such that they’re useful throughout the course life cycle, not just written as an obligatory pseudo-outline, then discarded when development begins. Points where design docs can answer key questions throughout the course life cycle include, what are we teaching, what are we reinforcing and how, how are learners doing, what needs to be fixed, and how much of this is still relevant as we build the new version.
The design document below was created for a multimedia photography course. Detail comes from objectives being written at three levels, outcomes, objectives and sub-objectives. These levels correspond roughly to three levels of learning activity, real world homework, online simulations and basic informational questions, i.e. true/false, multi-choice, etc.
As the course was authored checks were made in detail to ensure that each item has adequate presentation and practice at its respective level.