Assessment Isn’t About Memorization

Assessment Isn’t About Memorization - Dr. Jim Guilkey - M-Pact Learning

In business, we all recognize that if you can’t measure something, you can’t improve it. It’s an important but simple principle. It’s like if you’re trying to lose weight but never step on a scale, how do you know if you are succeeding? A similar belief has always dominated education. When teaching, we really do need to know if the student “gets it.” Getting it is actually about being able to put what you learned to work. For far too long, however, we have tried to measure what we teach only by having people prove retention in ways that are meaningless. If you assess knowledge with a multiple-choice quiz, all you’re really assessing is their ability to memorize.

We really do need to know if our employees are learning. Learning is actually measured by long-term retention and application. If the assessment tool I use is one based on memorization rather than application, then most likely the curriculum I’ve developed is only focused on the test.

That should sound familiar, for it’s long been a criticism of standardized testing—teaching to the test. You need employees who excel at their jobs, who can accurately answer your customer’s questions no matter their difficulty, and who don’t just understand the “what” of a process but the “why” of it. These are employees who can think. They can solve problems. They can demonstrate the agility to adapt what they know when an unexpected situation arises. You’ll never develop the employee I’ve just described if all you are doing is testing their ability to memorize.

Beyond Memorization

M-Pact learning creates a curriculum tailored to the needs of your business and your employees. It’s developed by learning design experts who understand how people learn and how to measure their learning success. It’s not designed to pass a test for which the answers will be forgotten the next day. It’s designed so that employees succeed on assessment devices because they have mastered the subject material and are ready to put it to work.

Even if people can get memorization into the long-term knowledge base, that’s simply not enough. Think of it this way. You would expect that a surgeon who is about to operate on you is capable of closing their eyes and precisely describing every organ, vein, artery, muscle, and nerve they will encounter. But is that enough to satisfy you? Of course not. You also want the surgeon who has performed the procedure hundreds of times, who knows how to react when your body reveals an anomaly or they encounter scar tissue or an undiagnosed condition or you react unexpectedly to the anesthesia. The surgeon’s perfect memory of anatomy won’t be sufficient then.

Because you want to arm your employees with knowledge they can use, start by studying what your training assessment asks of them. That will tell you a great deal about the effectiveness of your learning program. You can also get more information in my book: M-Pact Learning: The New Competitive Advantage.