“If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life thinking it is stupid”Albert Einstein
When I am training people in the workplace I am teaching them how to do a job, not how to pass a test. I ask managers, “What will the learner need to be able to do after this course that they cannot do now, and how will I know?” An effective assessment is a critical element of most workplace training courses. I always plan my assessments (and learning objectives) before developing my course content in detail. Sharing these plans with my stakeholders in advance helps make sure we all agree on what is being taught, and how we will know that learning has occurred.
I Assess the Same Skills Used on the Job
Good summative assessments direct the learners to higher level learning objectives. I like to use scenarios that require the learners to draw from several learning objectives and apply what they have learned from the training in the context of what they will be doing on the job.
For example: In this scenario I am training Chris to create a new user on a computer system. Chris will follow the new user job aid to create both a new user account and a security token. LESSON OBJECTIVE: By the end of this lesson the learner will be able to follow the new user job aid to create a working account for a new user on the system.
The best assessment for this would be for Chris to create a new user account on the system using the new user job aid.
What needs to be avoided are assessments that reward only superficial learning, and fail to direct students to higher level learning objectives.
For example: In the above scenario I could ask Chris questions about information that is on the job aid. Would this be useful? No. This only tests whether Chris has memorized a job aid that they would be able to refer to on the job.
I Deploy Formative Assessments Strategically
Assessing learning objectives should not be left to the end of the course. Learning should also be assessed throughout the course as each new idea is introduced.
Formative assessments are not a ‘big deal’ in the lesson. Their purpose is to provide learners an opportunity to practice applying each new idea as they learn. This way learners and trainers can identify strengths and weaknesses early, so that action can be taken.
For example: In this scenario there are two parts to creating a new user account. First, an account form must be completed, and then a security token must be sent to the user. LEARNING OBJECTIVE: by the end of this lesson, the learner will be able to follow the new user job aid to create a new user account. FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT: the learners will work in pairs to create a new user account using the new user job aid. LEARNING OBJECTIVE: by the end of this lesson, the learner will be able to generate a security token and send it as an email attachment. FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT: the learners will switch roles and continue following the new user job aid to generate a security token and email it to their partner.
As I introduce each new idea, I am presenting the teaching content. During the formative assessment activity, I might work with the groups to help answer questions and make sure everyone is successful. At the end of the lesson there is a summative assessment to bring it all together.
SUMMATIVE ASSESSMENT: the learner will follow the new user job aid to create three new users on the test system working on their own. Security tokens will be emailed to the trainer as evidence of completion.
I Match Assessment Methods to Learning Objectives
A specific learning objective will describe how it needs to be assessed.
For example: LEARNING OBJECTIVE: by the end of this lesson, the learner will be able to name three types of health insurance ASSESSMENT METHOD: the learner will name three types of health insurance. LEARNING OBJECTIVE: by the end of this lesson, the learner will be able to clock in and out of the timekeeping system ASSESSMENT METHOD: the learner will clock in and out of the timekeeping system.
This can also be done in reverse, defining the learning objective according to the assessment instead.
For example: ASSESSMENT METHOD: the learner will read a scenario about workplace bullying and then choose the most appropriate course of action LEARNING OBJECTIVE: by the end of this lesson, the learner will be able to evaluate a workplace bullying scenario and choose the most appropriate course of action.
I Follow All of My Assessments with Quality Feedback
Whenever an assessment is given, it is important to provide feedback to the learner regardless of whether they answered correctly. Sometimes learners do not completely understand their answer, so when giving feedback, I always explain what was right or wrong and why. I also make sure to call attention to the key learning points that are relevant.
I Continue to Assess Learning After Delivering the Course
So now my students can successfully complete my course in a simulated low-stakes environment while the learning is fresh. On the job, the learner will eventually encounter scenarios that were not covered in training. Have I equipped my students with the thinking skills to help them to choose the right course of action to take when they do not know the answer? Has enough time passed to allow learners to forget? Are learners able to assess their own understanding and continue to improve their skills in increasingly complex situations?
I like to keep an eye on performance metrics and talk to managers about the performance changes they have noticed over time. I am always prepared to provide further learning support and make changes to my course as I learn more about its effectiveness over time in preparing learners to continue their journey.