The Importance of Testing in Instructional Design

While many people truly enjoy learning something new, most people dread having to take a test that measures how much they just learned. So why do we keep forcing people to take exams?

This blog has covered testing in the past. The testing industry abounds, from state-mandated aptitude exams, to the college-entrance SAT and ACT, to professional certifications like the Project Management Professional or Six Sigma Black Belt.

It’s not going away anytime soon.

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Testing is important for organizations because skills acquired during training are lost quickly. Research points to 90 percent of skills lost within one year of training, and learning and development professionals struggle to crush the ‘forgetting curve.’

The best way to guard against skill loss would be to have the learner immediately apply his or her newly acquired skills in a real-life setting — quickly demonstrating the value of the instruction and reinforcing what was just learned.

This, however, is not always possible, as the L&D professional would need to work with the learner’s manager to devise real-world scenarios in which the learner applies newfound skills.

But in instructional design, testing enters at different points in the course development and delivery process. When designing courses, a model such as ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, Evaluation) may be used. Creating tests for learners falls not only in the Design phase, but also in the Implementation phase. Indeed, often thinking of the experience or performance on an exam can help drive the actual design of the course materials. 

Tests should be both valid and reliable. The validity portion can be decided by the department manager or subject matter expert who assists in designing the course, judging whether questions and question types truly map to the real-world tasks you’d like learners to be able to manage.

The reliability portion depends on how your learners perform on the test. You may not know if your tests are reliable at the onset, but after different groups of learners take the assessments, you can determine if the questions were too difficult (or too easy) and if they were able to incorporate the various learning styles of your learners.

Learning and development leaders are in a unique position of changing the game with the tests they provide during and after training is delivered. While you cannot necessarily make it more enjoyable, you can make it more valuable to the organization as a whole.

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