Those who know me (or have been stuck in a lift with me), will be able to tell you that a giant bug-bear of mine (yes, another one!) is the (mis-) use of assessment in the on line environment. Assessment has its place, but it needs to be part of your overall strategy, not a presumed add-on at the end of the module.
We’re up to the final category!
- Linear versus Forced Navigation
- Interaction versus Hand-Eye Coordination
- Engaging Visual Design versus Engaging Instructional Design
- Assessment versus Genuine Practice
Assessment versus Genuine Practice
What’s the problem?
I’m not confident that the question is being asked in the design phase - “do we even need an assessment?” An assessment has become a fixture in most Request For Proposals, and the response to the request is too often “Of course we can do an assessment! – so if we do an assessment – does that mean we win the tender? ”
Let’s think about why you are asking for an assessment:
- Do you need a formal assessment for compliance reasons?
- Do you need something concrete that you can hold onto in the form of an excel spreadsheet in your next management meeting?
- Do you want to know that your learners have taken it all in and now have a burning desire to apply their new found knowledge with your customers?
So admittedly there haven’t been a lot of choices for assessment in the on-line environment in the past. The LMS you’re using might have a character constraint on short answer responses so they turn out looking more like a Twitter update than a well thought out response. For longer responses you just don’t have the support staff to mark up and respond with valuable feedback manually. Multiple choice questions just seemed to be the easiest option for recording consistently on an LMS.
The problem with this solution is you’re responding to your first two requirements for compliance and reporting, but if you are creating a multiple choice question assessment and hold an expectation that it will somehow prove that your learners have what it takes to be let loose on your customers – there may be a discrepancy. For a start a multiple choice question has – well multiple choices. If a customer asks your learner a question, odds are they won’t be happy with a well considered, “Ummm – is it ‘B’?”
So what do you do?
Yes, we need an assessment
Ok, there are some instances where an assessment is required but let’s design it from the start and make sure it works! The reality of a multiple choice assessment is that you’re testing rote recall, which actually may suit some of your learners quite well, the little smarty pants ones with a photographic memory – but the real problem is that it’s out of context – the context bit is important. You don’t want to have to make them work too hard back in their work environment to use the correct piece of information in the right situation.
- So one remedy is to have scenario-based questions in your assessment, something that mirrors the learner’s workplace setting as close as possible. This will take some research to make it authentic so be prepared to dedicate a little time finding out a bit more about your learner’s environment before you put mouse to PowerPoint.
- Herein lies a second consideration. In your poking around in the learner’s world you’ve discovered that they don’t work independently, they are actually part of a process in the wider group! A collaborative assessment task is just the ticket for mirroring a team work environment; and this can be completed for local and virtual teams with the right design. Here it really can pay to extend your conversations in the design phase to do a task analysis and create a simulation that requires group participation.
But Nic! Isn’t that cheating! You may call it cheating, but I call it ‘collaboration’ and it’s happening with your assessments whether you like it or not. In so many meetings I have encountered the desperate cries of, “They just print out the questions and pass them around the team, helping each other out, I mean what do you call that?”, I respond with, “Sounds like you’ve got yourself a cohesive team collaboratively problem solving!”
No, it’s like we’ve seen the light – we really don’t need an assessment!
So your module has no compliance requirement, the learner just needs to be able to transfer their training back out there into the workplace. I know you have an LMS, but this time you could score on completion rather than a pass mark (no that is not an open invitation to engage forced navigation!)
Yes, that’s my advice, just make screwing up part of your learning design and support your learner through it. Simulate that cold sweat of not knowing the right response – and then steer them diligently in the right direction. It’s a great way for learners to not only understand the best path to take, but also why it matters.
By offering a broad range of scenarios with feedback, learners can practice as much or as little as they need to, it really is a personalised experience for learners who absorb information at different rates and bring varying levels of prior knowledge.
What do you think? Do we always need an assessment? Have you seen a system that works well sans assessment?