Learning requires acquisition or modification of information/skills/etc. by the learner and thus is an active process. Articulating learning objectives and using backwards design (planning what you do and how you do it based on the desired outcome) can help to structure our outreach interactions in intentional ways toward desired outcomes.
Learning is a process of building on students’ existing knowledge toward a new goal. Articulation of learning goals provides a focus for the educator and provides the student a roadmap or benchmark for their learning process. Learning objectives are more specific, actionable statements that provide the framework for an individual session. They are a great, straightforward check that the students have learned what you wanted them to.
Learning objectives can be written in various ways. I like the clarity of the SWBAT method: Students Will Be Able To …. [filled in with an action verb, and possibly more details to qualify the outcome]. For example, you wouldn’t say “SWBAT know the climate is warming” because how do you know that they know? It is vague and risks treating students like receptacles for information (what Freire called the Bank Model as students were like empty accounts waiting to be filled). Instead, think in terms of what you want the students to do, for example, “SWBAT identify charts consistent with warming climate over time” or “SWBAT explain the difference between warming climate and warm temperature.”
While the SWBAT objective structure may sound specific to the classroom setting, I argue that this lens can be applied broadly to any action you hope your outreach community will undertake based on your interactions. Keep in mind that learning objectives can be content focused, skill focused, or context focused. There is/are no right one/s. You may even want to articulate objectives in two of these three dimensions, but probably limit yourself before trying to address all three at one time.
You may not always reach your target learning objective, and on rare occasions you throw it out the window when things are very unexpected, but this objective should act as a guide to keep focus on the desired outcomes you hope to reach with your audience. By making the end goal clear to the learner, they can have agency in working to achieve this goal with you. If the end goal isn’t exciting to them, then maybe reconsider your end goal.
Once you’ve written an objective or two, think about what you do in the course of your lesson or activity to scaffold learners’ ability to perform the desired action. Are you demonstrating this type of action in your lesson? Are you asking learners to explore parts of the action or parts of the topic in clear ways? As you think about these pieces, you are doing backwards design — a strategy developed to promote clear, effective lesson planning with the end-goal in center focus. This can be very effective for deciding what components are the best uses of your limited time with your learners. Remember, you still must get to know the learners and build trust in order to build on their knowledge and experiences, so this is not suggesting to remove those elements. Rather, think about whether the content you deliver can be streamlined to cut out some pieces that might distract from the main idea(s) you want the learners to take away, remember, and act upon.
Ultimately, we are engaging with others to add meaning and/or trust in scientific ideas and values. These are all actionable and thus can be described by objectives and planned for accordingly.
Some of the challenge may come into play when the actions we want are not traditionally science actions. Do we want our audience to learn something about climate change science for the sake of knowing data or so that they can take part in community and political discussions and even to take direction themselves to mitigate this problem? The actions we desire might be political, interpersonal, or future-career driven and that is okay—even great! Clarity in how we want science outreach messages to create relevance and action for our audience is a big first step for effective experiences.