Traditionally, trainers have viewed assessments from two perspectives:
- As a planning tool, helping the learner and trainer decide what the training should cover, and
- As an accountability tool, establishing a yardstick against which progress can be measured.
Research, however, suggests another, less obvious role: as a motivational tool. When learners are asked to assess their knowledge and skills before and during the training, they learn more.
A 2009 meta-study of some 60 research articles on adult learning concluded that trainers who give adult learners a “conceptual or operational framework” for assessing themselves will amplify the results of the training.
In other words, give learners a way to see their deficits and they’ll be more motivated to work on those deficits, the researchers found.
Implications for trainers
You’ll still want to use assessments a a measurement tool, of course. But when you take into account their powerful motivational effects, it may change how you design and implement them. Here are some ideas to help you maximize their motivational power:
There’s a reason why learners push back against assessments: Nobody likes to be judged.
Help learners see that the primary goal of assessments isn’t to give them a grade. It’s to help them learn more effectively.
Explain that the assessments will help you deliver more effective training, and help them see where training can have the most impact.
If you only have assessments at the beginning and end of the training event, you’re missing many opportunities to reward and motivate your learners.
To keep learners motivated and on track, consider building in “mini-assessments” at various points in the process.
For example, say you’re using role plays to train salespeople to overcome objections. To amplify the effect of the role play, ask participants to assess their objection-handling skills before the exercise begins
It might be as simple as asking a question: “Tell me what aspects of handling objections you find most challenging, so we can be sure to cover those areas.”
Ditto for post-assessments: Build in multiple checkpoints to assess progress throughout the training.
Get learners engaged
Learners are more likely to be motivated to fix deficits that they identify on their own. So the more you can increase their sense of ownership over the assessment – the process and the results – the better for learning.
For example, you might have learners score their own assessments. Invite them to discuss the results (either individually or in the group, depending on their comfort level).
And if they don’t think the assessment is accurate, discuss that too. They’ll only be motivated to change if they buy into the assessment.
That said, however, you don’t want to put assessment entirely in the hands of learners.
Without a reality check, learners are prone to overestimating their skill levels and underestimating their training needs.
A classic 1999 study, for example, identified something called the Dunning-Kruger Effect: The people with the lowest skill levels vastly overinflated their abilities. For example, trainees who scored in the 12th percentile estimated they had scored in the 62nd.
That’s because the same deficits that made them bad at their jobs also tended to make them bad at assessment.
Relying only on subjective self-assessments will leave such folks feeling good about themselves but not really motivated to learn. So they also need some objective feedback.
So, for example, a forklift operator may truly believe she operates her equipment safely. She’ll need objective evidence to convince her otherwise – for example, observation by the trainer or a quiz to assess her knowledge.
Another way to create a reality check: One-on-one debriefings, especially after attempting to apply the learning in the field.
Often, this attempted application will give learners the most accurate assessment. For example, language learners get an accurate picture of how they’re doing once they try to talk with a native speaker.
Trivette, C, et al. (2009). Characteristics and Consequences of Adult Learning Methods. Research Brief, Vol. 3, No. 1; Kruger, J, et al. (1999). Unskilled and Unaware of It. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 77, no. 6, pp. 1121-1134.
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