Tuesday, April 5, 2016

How to Design Unobtrusive Test Questions - Tip #94

Have you experienced turbulence during your most recent air travel? Or when was the last time you drove into a city street where the speed bumps were so horrendous you had to have your car in full stop to avoid damage to it?           
This is how it feels like psychologically, when your learners have to take a memory test or knowledge check. It is jarring. It is utterly annoying. Most of all, it often does not help in learning.

What Stops Frictionless Learning

Most designers and learning specialists would agree that we are seeing the need for more “frictionless” learning - unimpeded and fast learning and access to knowledge and information. Learners are learning while going through their workflow and yet, are constantly in search mode. So, the closer we bring the learning to application, the better the ideas are immediately applied.

What stops “frictionless” learning experiences are checkpoints or control points we call “tests.” The goal of testing is to help learners learn and ascertain their retention and application of ideas. This is well and good. However, we see more complaints from learners that tests are mere “CYA” actions in compliance courses and “just-to-make-sure-you-covered” the content type of tests. In these situations the tests become hazards to better learning.

Differentiate Administrative Control Tests from Learning Tests

Many courses and elearning are designed to show proof of compliance. Usually, they protect the interests of the company in the event there are legal challenges and certain evidences are required by the courts. In this case, we need to call these tests “administrative controls”. It is best not to confuse these tests with learning tests, where learners go to through questions to apply ideas.

The dangers of not differentiating administrative types of tests from learning tests is that we may make the mistake of swapping them or regarding them as one and the same. The risk is that while we do our best to train people, our tests sabotage their “frictionless” experience.

Setting up Design for Unobtrusive Tests with Real-Life Events

A premise to make tests unobtrusive is to add real-life events as examples and references in your lessons. These are anchors that learners can relate to. Content devoid of real-life illustrations, ends up as mere factual information. This is what memorization tests deal with - just  factual content. Without real-life events, our tests will end up being just about memorizing facts.

Examples of Unobtrusive Tests

Tests become unobtrusive when they are relevant, useful, based on real life and applicable to the learners’ work. In short, it helps them understand the content in real-life context.

Let us say that the content is about ethics in purchasing:
When John arrived home he was greeted with a huge package which contained expensive gifts. Upon checking the card, it was obvious to him that Peter, his favorite vendor, sent the gifts. John has seen his bosses accept gifts even if a policy exists to the contrary.

If you were John, how would you respond?
  • Application Question: “What should John do?”
  • Reflection Question: “Should John return or accept the gift? What are the risks?”
  • Interpretation Question: “What parts of the policy allow accepting gifts and what aspects prohibit accepting gifts?”
  • Interactive Question: ”Should John go and check his personal liability and that of the company in relation to this policy?”
  • Process Question: “At what point should John call the attention of his boss and report about the gifts?”
  • Problem-solving Question: “What should John do if Peter insists that he should keep the gifts?”
Obtrusive tests are found in many elearning courses. They are like speed bumps or turbulences. But we have plenty of opportunities to remove these stumbling blocks.


Remove the Sting of Compliance Courses: Make Them Short, Succinct, Easy to Learn

Weaving Stories and Factual Content for Seamless Lessons

Kill Boring eLearning with Story-Based Lessons

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
"Helping Learners Learn Their Way"

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