The Difference Between Performance Goals and Learning Goals

August 22, 2016 in Career and Job Search Tips



Not all goals are the same. Performance goals are ones that focus on an outcome. The outcome (or goal) is based on performance. Examples would be to achieve a detailed score on a competency exam or be awarded a specific form of recognition. An advantage of performance goals is the result. Critics of this approach might say the outcome can distract an individual from learning and therefore, the long-term benefit.

Obviously, learning goals focus on the learning. What is being learned is the key. If we use the same example above, a learning goal would be to focus on learning the competency because if we do, then ultimately we’ll get the score we’re trying to achieve. And the subsequent recognition we’re looking for.

The question becomes is one type of goal better or more important than another?

I totally understand the idea that, if our focus is to become a lifelong learner, then having learning goals is important. We need to understand how to evaluate our learning needs, set learning goals, make learning plans, and finally monitor our progress.

But once we’ve started the learning process, I think we need to add performance goals. And I mean add, not replace one for the other. Learning goals help us get started and performance goals help us get better.

For example: I am constantly trying to get better with my Spanish. I’ve taken courses and even immersion courses, but it’s very hard to practice when you work from home (an English-speaking home). So my learning goal is to work on my Spanish. As a result, I’ve started using an app which allows me to take a Spanish lesson every day. Now, when it tells me I’m on a 21-day lesson streak or that I’m 33 percent fluent, that’s the performance goal. Because I’m constantly trying to make that score better.

In order to be successful, we need to set both learning and performance goals. The key is understanding which one you’re setting and why. Because if you create garbage goals, then you won’t get the results you’re looking for.

This post was written by Sharlyn Lauby, the author of HR Bartender and president of ITM Group Inc.