How do we ensure competency?

Is training really the answer?

I’ve just watched Craig Taylor’s excellent Pecha Kucha ‘Using technology to enhance an assess-train-assess approach’ in which he shares examples of how assessing competency levels before automatically mandating everyone attend the same annual refresher has had a positive impact on business.

When I hear people talking about the need to design a course here may be some reasoning behind it:

a) there is an update
b) compliance -staff are required to attend refresher training every year whether they need it or not
c) there’s some new approaches to working practise

However, before you automatically go through the usual motions and go down the ‘we’ve got to design a new course’ why not ask yourself the following questions:

How much do they know already?

How often would they carry out that work?

and the biggie…. What REALLY tells you whether they are competent or not?

Why do we insist on putting everyone, no matter how experienced they are in the subject, through a course before establishing whether they actually need it? Even when the instructional design is top notch including relevant task based interactive activities, it’s a waste of resources and staff time if they already know the subject matter and are applying successfully. Of course we need to maintain quality and adhere to legal requirements but is herding us all through one-size-fits-all courses the most efficient or, indeed, effective way of doing this?

It seems we often pay more attention to recording ‘bums on seats’ – virtual or otherwise instead of establishing the quality of work performance. So our workforce are all too often taken off their important jobs and attend compulsory training where there is limited flexibility in what they can choose to do. There is a simple, logical and very effective solution – assessments not courses.

As I said in a comment to Ryan Tracy’s blog post ‘online courses must die‘ “why force individuals to go through the same mandatory content year after year when all they may need is a yearly, skills based assessment. If that assessment highlight skills gaps then a more flexible learning programme will make sure individuals learn only what they need not what they don’t”

Now I’m not saying that we’ll never need formal courses ever again. This would be ridiculous and untrue. Besides, I’d be talking my way out of a job if I do that. There are many reasons why someone will need formal courses. But before we decide, we do need to be more analytical before designing how to facilitate our workforce’s learning paths. Yes, it may mean more hard work gathering all the information you’ll need. Yes, it will mean we would need to encourage ownership of learning more to the individuals themselves and help them develop their meta-cognitive skills. And yes, it will mean L&D professionals would then become more cultivators of learning.

When reflecting on why this ‘herding’ approach occurs so frequently, I was reminded of a conversation I had recently around the reluctance in considering just assessing staff to prove competence before deciding whether anyone needed more formal training. It appears it all boiled down to the quality of the assessment – or rather the poor quality of the assessment. This meant that everyone had to be forced to attend the same training course to make sure the content was covered (not I didn’t say learned) and which could be tracked for statistical purposes and to prove attendance.  Now, correct me if I’m wrong but the whole point of an assessment is to test whether a person is competent in the subject matter.

If you spend the valuable time and effort in creating great learning programmes, whether they are formal courses or a collection of learning nuggets on-demand, the only way learning can be confirmed is by completing an assessed activity.  If that assessment can easily be ‘guessed’, then the learner doesn’t have to use any problem solving techniques to analyse and apply.  If you honestly have little confidence in the assessment at the end of a learning programme, of course you won’t want to put it out there on its own.  It will about as much use as a chocolate  teapot!

We’ve often discussed what makes good learning, ‘e’ or otherwise. What now begs the question is “what is good assessment?”

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