Aims, objectives and outcomes: What they mean and why you should care
Aims, objectives and outcomes will be familiar to anyone who engages in CPD, but how many really understand what they mean and why they are important? The reality is that most do not, including those responsible for dental education, GDC included!
The terms are distinct but often conflated. Aims are what a CPD activity sets out to achieve i.e. its goals (some argue that for clarity there should only be one, but that is for another discussion). Objectives are what will be undertaken to achieve the aim(s). Outcomes describe what the participant can expect on completion of the activity, usually in relation to the job role. Aims and objectives therefore relate to the role of the CPD provider and outcomes to that of the participant.
Here is an example for a course on personal development planning:
Explain how to create and maintain an effective personal development plan (PDP).
The course will cover:
- The benefits of a PDP;
- The evidence base;
- The mandatory requirements;
- The essentials of creating an effective plan;
- Keeping your plan up to date; and
- Free and paid-for tools.
On completion you will understand the benefits of a PDP, what is required to be compliant with your legal obligations, and how to construct and maintain one using tools that are simple and effective.
Importance for participant and provider
For the deliverer of the CPD activity, taking time to consider the aims, objectives and outcomes will helps focus attention on what the activity sets out to do, how it will do it and the benefits it will provide participants. It is part of the quality assurance process. Without doing so, the activity risks being poorly structured and its effectiveness diminished.
For the prospective participant, reading well-constructed aims, objectives and outcomes will quickly identify its relevance to specific learning needs and give confidence in the provider.
In 2013 the GDC called for CPD providers to quality-assure their activities and for registrants to choose their CPD wisely. However, the GDC does not regulate providers: they can publish what they want and claim it meets the requirements for verifiable CPD. If the GDC were to ask to inspect your records, you would need to justify how the activity met the requirements for verifiable CPD. That includes having concise aims and objectives.
It is easy to see how the terms are often muddled. "Aims and objectives" are usually bundled together, and to the casual eye objectives are synonymous with outcomes. Can you see any issues with the GDC's example CPD certificate? If you do please comment below.
The Enhanced CPD scheme muddies the waters further. It removed outcomes, replacing them with its own "development outcomes" (A-D). These are aligned to the nine principles in Standards, but are generic rather than specific to an activity. The reason given for this was that the GDC did not want to confuse them with its internal objectives.
Not only this, but it introduced learning content. This would appear to refer to how the activity delivers its information e.g. lecture, webinar, hands-on training, assessments etc. But it does not. The GDC allows providers to define "learning content" as they see fit. How does this assist clear communication?
Most probably give little thought to the aims, objectives and outcomes attributed to a CPD activity. But hopefully it is clear why it is important to do so from both the perspective of the provider and consumer of CPD.