More Than Measurement: What Assessment Means to Us

April 14, 2022 | Reskill Your Workforce | 10 min read

There are two schools of thought when it comes to assessment. According to one, assessment exists purely to prove you've learned something. All that matters is whether you pass the test at the end of the course.

At Skillsoft, we subscribe to a different view. We see assessment as an essential component of the skill acquisition process. Measuring learning is essential, but assessments can do much more than that. They can empower learners to take charge of their own paths while reinforcing the skills and knowledge they need to reach their destinations.

And when you embrace assessment as a learning opportunity in its own right, you end up with assessments that are more accurate and more valuable for both L&D leaders and learners alike.

Telling the Whole Learning Story

As Bloom's taxonomy illustrates, learning is a process of escalating complexity. We start at the bottom with the very basic facts, and we make our way through increasingly sophisticated stages until we master the topic. Each level of the ladder to proficiency asks us to think in different ways and exercise various skills to comprehend the material and, eventually, apply it in the real world.

We can't possibly capture the whole breadth of the journey with a single style of assessment. Sure, a multiple-choice question might illustrate whether a person can define basic terms, but it doesn't capture their ability to build something new using the knowledge they've gained. To tell the whole learning story, we need assessments tailored to each level of Bloom's taxonomy.

That's why, at Skillsoft, we don't reserve assessments for the beginning and end of a course. Instead, we use multiple assessments of multiple types throughout the process. For example, a diagnostic test at the beginning of a class helps learners understand where they're starting from; whereas, an in-course knowledge-check allows learners to track their development so far and determine where to go next. Capstone projects also give learners a hands-on way to practice — and perfect — their newly acquired skills.

By using multiple assessments of multiple types throughout the journey, we can gauge employee progress through each stage, giving L&D leaders a more granular and accurate view of talent development over time. This helps tell a fuller, more objective story about skill acquisition.

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Helping Learners Find their Way

It's important to provide L&D leaders with a window into the workforce, but assessments must also be useful to the learners who take them. Assessment can — and should — actively help those learners acquire the skills they and their organizations need.

With the rise of on-demand and self-paced training formats, today's learners expect flexibility and control over their learning journeys. They also, however, want guidance along the way. Assessments can give them that guidance. From in-course knowledge checks to diagnostic testing to hands-on projects, well-crafted assessments empower learners to check in with themselves at any time to evaluate their current knowledge and abilities. In this way, assessment helps learners confirm what they've learned and pinpoints the exact skills they need to brush up on for that new project or next promotion.

In self-paced learning, it's all too easy for learners to fumble in the dark. Assessments can illuminate the many pathways that stand open before them.

What Makes a Great Assessment?

Assessments can only accomplish all of this — empowering learners, informing L&D leaders, and supporting skill development — if they're designed well. But what, exactly, makes a great assessment?

In short, a great assessment is designed with the needs of learners in mind and tailored to the specific learning objectives it aims to measure.

When our in-house content strategists and curators build learning programs, we always start with three questions:

  1. What are the different learner personas?
  2. What types of experiences do learners want?
  3. What are the outcomes that learners want?

The answers to these questions dictate both the course content and assessment design. To reach a variety of learners, we differentiate instruction. We offer videos, books, hands-on demonstrations, practice exercises, and other resources to support their desired outcomes — whether it be learning new skills through practice, gaining domain proficiency with certifications, or working toward a particular career path.

These learning activities and outcomes are all linked to carefully considered learning objectives, which we then use to create our suite of assessments. For example, if the learning objective is "Recall what an API is," a multiple-choice question will do the trick. On the other hand, if the learning objective is "Build an API," then a hands-on practice lab would be better.

It's vital to build assessments around specific learning objectives. That's how we ensure our assessments measure the right things and support the right skill development. And this, in turn, makes our assessments stronger learning opportunities. Learners are practicing real learning objectives with each assessment. That's scientifically proven to strengthen learning outcomes: We remember half of what we hear and see 14 days later, but 90 percent of what we do.[1]

The Power of the Right Assessments

By tracking progress and identifying areas for improvement, well-designed assessments put learners in complete control of their learning journeys. Learners can skip material they already know, focus on critical concepts they need to master, and build on their existing skills to reach new heights.

If you think of Skillsoft's vast array of instructional materials and activities as landmarks within your learning journey, then great assessments are the directions that will guide learners to the next stop. Whether they're an entry-level hire looking to gain new competencies or a seasoned professional updating to the latest technologies, learners who receive personalized feedback from well-designed assessments are on the fast track to success. And so, too, is your organization.