I am becoming more and more disillusioned with SMART target setting and the related ILP process. I think we need to consider if it’s fit for purpose. The notion is that specific, measurable, achievable, realistic targets will help learners focus on steps for learning. However, what I generally see in colleges and what I experienced in a 20-year teaching career, was that the target setting and related ILP process is too often reduced to a lengthy paper exercise in which many learners do not engage. Targets can be set by the teacher/tutor/assessor, in language that isn’t even student friendly in some cases. ILPs become another part of the monstrous paper trail of FE and only raise their head again on a stressful 1:1 review day. It’s all rather reductive and not a great help in creating an ongoing dialogue about learning.
So I think we need to re-think SMART and put some attention on making targets:
- Student friendly and stretching– in language that learners understand and use, with enough challenge to make them engaging and stimulating
- Motivating- linked more clearly to how they connect with the wider learning process and ultimate goals for the individual in work and life
- Actual and authentic– the kind of things that particular learners will be able to do in their current life, so better personalized, e.g. read and summarise one article from a free newspaper every week; get one piece of feedback from a client/customer/colleague every week and note down what you learned from it
- Reviewed– in 1:1 tutorial discussions/learner reviews and in group activities, so that learners practise self and peer assessment using targets
- Talked about– in sessions or workplace meetings, as part of lessons and on a regular basis, so that they are real, live parts of the learning process
If SMART targets and goals can be more like this, I think there is a chance they will assist learners to learn more effectively and be a good use of our time as teachers, tutors and assessors. However, for this to happen, some may need to re-think their approach, review their use of SMART targets and embed them much more actively and usefully into everyday practice. Then a real dialogue about learning would become possible.