SMART goals reconsidered

I often look towards the school system for education innovation, ideas and inspiration. As schooling moves away from a system set up for an industrial age to one for developing global citizens in which new learning spaces exist. School teachers are increasingly being challenged to meet the very different educational needs of current and future generations. However teachers are still commonly stuck with providing measurable goals and commonly Drucker’s SMART goals approach is utilised.

  • Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
  • Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
  • Assignable – specify who will do it.
  • Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
  • Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.

In healthcare as an educator, you will have likely come across SMART as a positive and systematic way to measure impact. This is great, but let’s take a minute to consider SMART and some of its potential drawbacks. In healthcare systems, look around at some of the core essentials of care and reflect on if these are true measures of quality care or have easy measurables been targeted?

When we think of the skills we want our learners to achieve, finding the answer on how to measure these is likely very difficult. See the image below for some of the networked learning skills you may want your learner to engage in and the difficulty to measure. So we then move onto the next denominator that will be measurable. And it is at this point that we have compromised, moving to something that is easier to measure to either keep the hierarchy happy or a quick way to have some results data. Is it meaningful? Probably but it’s not the main focus for the intended learning outcomes so we have likely missed the best parts.

Learning Goals

A post by J. Murphy (2016) on SMART goals in his experience as a school teacher in the USA, provides a great explanation of this need to understand learners and what we actually measure.  He states that “instead of creating learners, it feels like we are putting an emphasis on the most assessable skills, not the most important.”

Keywords: SMART; critical thinking; creativity; goals; Peter Drucker.


Drucker, P. (2007) The Practice of Management. revised edn, Butterworth-Heinemann.

Murphy, J. (2016) The Antsy Time of Year. Hired, fired, inspired.

Wikipedia. (2016) SMART Criteria.