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Setting SMART learning objectives: This is how you do it!

As a student, you constantly come across them during your studies: SMART learning objectives. Of course, this is not without reason. Setting SMART learning objectives is an excellent way to really start working on your objectives. Whether you want to pass an exam or want to feel more comfortable in your own skin, by setting up your learning objectives SMART, you are more likely to achieve those objectives. But what does SMART actually stand for and how can you set SMART learning objectives yourself? Stuvia is happy to help you on your way with various tips, a step-by-step plan, and various examples of SMART learning objectives.

What is a SMART learning objective?

A SMART learning objective is a learning objective formulated using the SMART method. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Acceptable, Realistic, and Time-bound. Setting your learning objectives SMART is the first step towards achieving them. We briefly explain each part of SMART so you can apply this method flawlessly to your personal learning objectives.

Specific → An objective should be specific. Literally, it means "precise in parts". You want each individual aspect of your objective to be completely clear.

Measurable → An objective must be measurable to determine whether it has been achieved or not. Measurable literally means "expressable in a measure". The measurable concept can be, for example, in euros but also in hours or end product(s).

Acceptable → If an objective is acceptable, which literally means "agreeable", you want to do everything to achieve it, while being supported by your environment.

Realistic → An objective should be achievable and therefore realistic. Still, it is important to formulate an objective that challenges you.

Time-bound → When you start working on an objective, you should indicate a start time and an end time. This is because an objective that is not time-bound loses its urgency.

Why formulate learning objectives SMART?

By formulating your learning objectives SMART, you make your objectives tangible, easier and faster to achieve. You also give direction to your learning process. This keeps you sharp and focused on your personal development. This not only provides extra motivation but also enthusiasm. Formulating SMART learning objectives is also often a requirement from your college, university, or (internship) company.

Setting a SMART learning objective: how to do it?

Now that you know more about what a SMART learning objective is and why you should formulate your learning objectives SMART, it is time to set SMART learning goals yourself. Invest some time in online study courses to grab on new skills to increase your goals primarily to the next level. Easily formulate SMART learning objectives with this step-by-step plan.

Step 1: Be specific

It is important to make your learning objective specific. A useful tool here is the ‘W-questions’: who, what, where, why, and when? If you can answer these questions in your learning objective, your learning objective is specific and well formulated. So think carefully beforehand about what you want to achieve so that you can fully elaborate on your objective.

Step 2: Make your objective measurable

Your learning objective must be measurable. After all, how else can you know whether you have actually achieved your objective? You make a learning objective measurable by answering the following questions:

  • How many hours will I spend on it?
  • How can I best measure my result?
  • What do I expect from the final result?

Step 3: Acceptable to yourself and others

While formulating your SMART learning objective, you must also take into account various factors from the environment; your learning objective must be acceptable to everyone. After all, you don't want your learning objective to hinder colleagues, fellow students or family. So always discuss your learning objective with the people around you. Some questions you can ask yourself to check this are:

  • Can I achieve these learning objectives at my internship company and do they support it?
  • Do I support the learning objective myself and do I have the motivation for it?

Step 4: Set a realistic learning objective

Don't set the bar too high for yourself and keep your objectives realistic. Achieving an objective will increase your motivation and enthusiasm. At the same time, definitely don't set the bar too low either; after all, you do want to keep it challenging for yourself. You can test the feasibility of a SMART learning objective with a few questions:

  • Do I have the knowledge or resources to achieve my learning objective?
  • Isn't my learning objective too simple?

Step 5: Give an end date

Set yourself a period for when you need to achieve an objective; make your learning objective time-bound. Often, a deadline is also given from your education or (internship) company. It is important that you also note this date when you set up a SMART learning objective. You can do this by answering the questions:

  • When will I start working on my learning objective?
  • When will I have achieved my objective?

TIP: A SMART learning objective usually focuses on an objective that you can achieve within a year (in the short term). Do you have a longer-term objective? Then try to divide it into sub-objectives that eventually lead to your final objective. By keeping it small, you can meet the five requirements of the SMART method and stay motivated.

SMART Learning Objectives: Examples

You now know more about the definition of a SMART learning objective and how to set up SMART learning objectives. To help you even further, we’ve listed some SMART learning objective examples:

❌ 'I don't want to get distracted anymore'.

✅ 'In the coming months, I want to focus on working more productively and be less distracted by external factors like my smartphone. My screen time needs to be cut by 15%.

❌ 'I want to be in charge more often during projects'.

✅ 'In the coming year, while working, I want to be the project leader on at least one project and be ultimately responsible for the planning and outcome'.

❌ 'I want to conduct an investigation'.

✅ 'During my internship, I want to conduct a research, that contributes to the growth and awareness of company X, to take my research skills to the next level'.

Always keep in mind that learning objectives are personal. So you can use these examples of SMART learning objectives as a guide, but always choose a learning objective that you personally support and find challenging.
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