A methodology for learning. Part 6 – Assessment

In this series of articles, i’m exploring my Learning Methodology in more detail. We started by examining Context, the contract for the learning, and moving onto Demonstration, where we illustrate our points. Then into Exploration, with a chance to play with the learning, and Reflection, where people form their personal narrative around the subject. Today, as we near the end of the series, we look at Assessment.

Methodology - assessment

As we move towards the end of my learning methodology, we come to assessment, the formal accreditation gateway. But why are you assessing at all?

Assessment is the one step that i view as optional: it’s the formal accreditation gateway and it may not always be necessary. You see, our point in learning is to affect change: changes in knowledge, skills, attitudes, behaviours, to create some disturbance and cause some thinking. It’s not, however, always necessary to try to measure that. Indeed, the first question i always ask around assessment is ‘what are we going to do with the results?‘ If there is no convincing answer, you have to ask why you’re bothering to assess in the first place.

Assessment is something done more often from habit than necessity. It’s a routine we get into in learning design, perhaps convincing ourselves that it will cause people to learn better or be more engaged with the learning. Well, there may be some truth that you can use that particular stick to get people to engage, but it’s better to focus on making the learning engaging, making it magnetic, and only assessing when we are going to do something meaningful with the results.

Whenever a formal accreditation gateway is going to be used, we should consider the different approaches to assessment available to us. It doesn’t have to be multi choice.

At the Exploration stage, we are playing with the learning, often using scenario based branching or unconstrained simulation approaches (in either e-learning or the classroom), and this approach can be used for assessment too: observing how people behave in scenarios and what decisions they make. But we can take it further: we can use diagnostic exercises, where we ask people to make decisions as to what they would do, then to explain their underlying reasoning.

This narrative approach is something we’ve encountered already too, at the Reflection stage, but here we are going to assess the narrative. We are looking for someone to make a decision and to explain, through narrative, why they’ve taken that decision.

This gives us a foundation for the later stages of learning: performance support and coaching, it gives us an insight into their decision making process and, crucially, they have made decisions. Making decisions moves the learning from being abstract to concrete.

As a rule of thumb: the more applied the assessment, the better. In other words, the more you can build assessment into an experience that reflects real life, the more aligned it will be with personal priorities and my everyday reality. Making the assessment applied is a great way to make it relevant.

And it’s ok not to assess at all. After all, there’s no assessment at the end of this article, but there’s still a fighting chance we’ll all learn something as a result of reading it.

So think broadly about assessment: you can assess through observation (in classroom or through e-learning, observing what decisions people make in simulated or branching scenario environments), you can assess through questioning (what would you do in this situation) and, whichever approach we take, we can use narrative to explain underlying reasoning (why did you decide on that course of action?). Whichever method we use, contextual feedback is more valuable than ‘right‘ or ‘wrong‘. Contextual feedback is dependent upon what i actually do: “you’ve chosen answer A, we thought B was more appropriate for these reasons…“. This, alongside their narrative for choosing that option, gives you a solid basis for discussion.

When you’re designing learning, it’s also fine to give yourself permission not to assess at all: after all, so much assessment adds little value and often does nothing but conclude the experience on a down note.

Assessment is only of value if we contextualise and act on the results.

It’s ok to fail: assessment is not about passing, it’s about learning. If you give people space to play, they will sometimes fail, but that very failure leads to learning.


Q: What needs to be assessed?
Q: What will you do with the assessment results?
Q: Is there any point in assessment?


YES: it’s about checking understanding
NO: using a template of drag and drop exercises will not do it

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
This entry was posted in Achievement, Assessment, Challenge, Context, Demonstration, Design, Education, Effectiveness, Engagement, Instructional Design, Learning, Learning Design, Learning Methodology, Learning Styles, Motivation and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to A methodology for learning. Part 6 – Assessment

  1. Assessment also does give a quality control mechanism – we use it very effectively when training mediators (using all the techniques you mention including observational). The organisations we work with want to make sure that the people they train are ‘qualified’ to a standard and the assessment allows for those not up to that standard to not get through. The assessment provides a check and an assurance that the person going through to mediate (and be in a potentially challenging and difficult environment) has the necessary skills at the right level.

    • julianstodd says:

      You’re absolutely right of course, there are many times when we need formal assessment. i think where i wanted to draw attention is that there are many times that organisations assess simply because that’s what the template tells them to do. As i say, you should only assess if you are doing something meaningful with the results: with compliance training, it’s a legal requirement and you’ll carry out remedial work around failure. in other areas, the case is less clear. I find that simply assessing everything, especially when it’s done with multi choice questions, can be counter productive.

      Thanks for sharing your experiences, best wishes, Julian

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