Learning goals and coffee: the importance of clear objectives to understand how to achieve anything

May 25, 2021

Define your goals; it is important to have clear milestones to pursue. 

Goals, both personal or professional, is a universal feature in our lives. Without goals, from whether concrete, abstract, materialistic, or noble, actions seem to lose their meaning. Throughout our lives we find ourselves experiencing challenging situations. This does not mean these moments were negative, but rather situations where actions have to be taken in order to solve a “problem”– to bring our current situation closer to the ideal one. Without descending into existential questions, let’s think of being in a room where there is a vending machine offering some sort of beverage.If we don’t feel we want to change our physical state from “without a drink” to “with a drink,” we will not approach the vending machine. If we want to change our state from “person without a drink”, but we don’t know we want to reach the precise state of “person with a cup of coffee,” we would probably approach the vending machine but we would not insert money or select “cafĂ©.” 

Our actions are clearly driven by needs and goals, by our will and thoughts. Without them we would be stationary. 

When it comes to learning, a process whereby we take actions to solve problems and achieve goals, it should be the same; however, we would rarely find ourselves putting all our change in the vending machine and trying five or six different drinks to find out which one we actually wanted or whether we needed to have any. In the learning process we tend to behave in this mindless manner. The course is on the curriculum – someone thought it is useful in some way to my education; my boss sends me on a training course -some legislator will have had his own good reasons for making it compulsory.We find ourselves taking in so much information, from books, articles, slides, all the materials proposed by the instructor, without knowing what need know or purpose of this new information. This lack of awareness leads us to feel overwhelmed and confused– just as we would with six different drinks in our hands. 

We know it is important to be aware of our goals in general, but it is essential to be aware when we are learning. Resources, both material and cognitive, that we employ by attending a course are not unlimited. In fact, they are the contrary: we cannot afford to waste them. 

Instructors should promote self-reflection and self-awareness, making students ask themselves about their educational and training needs in order to outline their objectives. At the same time, instructors should highlight those formative, common objectives to all students and explain how they contribute to the achievements of the degree course, or how the skills acquired in that course will serve the working life of whoever is learning. 

Unfortunately, there is often not enough communication between the two parties in the classroom. Instructors, the experts who teach the subject and take the knowledge of the course for granted; students, who rely on the hands of the professors or institution without asking too many questions, or alternatively, they ask questions and are frustrated because they are reluctant to communicate their confusion about the objectives. 

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