Pop quiz: when is the best time to test a learner’s knowledge of training material? If you’re like the majority of HR professionals responsible for designing corporate training programs, you’ll likely say, “after all the material has been learned.” After all, that’s the model we came up with while in school—study a unit, and then take a test to assess knowledge and understanding, repeating as needed.
However, despite many of our experiences taking tests throughout school, if your goal is to ensure your new hires retain as much essential job knowledge as possible, it may be time to give the culminating test a failing grade. Recent research done into the topic has revealed that for maximum benefit, continuous assessment is the way to go.
How continuous assessment is better at improving performance
Whereas conventional learning models favor testing at the end of a unit, continuous assessment is exactly what it sounds like – knowledge checks are administered on an ongoing, continual basis. One-shot, terminal tests may be good at uncovering what knowledge wasn’t conveyed, but such a model fails to then offer opportunity for learners to make up those knowledge gaps.
Standard testing is used to ensure a learner meets a minimum baseline of knowledge to advance, but employers don’t want employees who scrape by on minimums. To get the best results, trainees need the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and knowledge gaps. Continuous testing offers a way to turn “wrong answers” into learning opportunities. For management, that means better performance from staff.
Testing can make your training more effective
Not only can continuous assessment allow for opportunities to improve performance, but it can actually make training more effective. Science tells us that retrieval practice—the act of remembering previously stored information—can further cement that knowledge into our brains.
Known as the testing effect, continually having learners go back and recall information multiple times can have a cumulative effect on learning and strength of memory. Just like reinforcing a bridge with more support makes it more resistant to collapsing, reinforcing a piece of information by constantly calling it into the brain helps cement the very neural pathways that our brains use to store information.
For employers, this is key to improving training performance. Testing early and often will highlight which areas need improvement. And by repeatedly testing trainees on this information, you’re ensuring that they’re making stronger connections. Continuous assessment drives performance in employees and gives employers the confidence that their training methods are achieving the best results.
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Written by Laura Martin