Written by Nancy Molyneaux, Account Executive and Briony Frost, Learning & Development Specialist on Friday 18th June 2021
Measures of success in training programs rely heavily on assessments of, and for, learning. Summative (graded) assessments provide ways to compare learner progress against pre-determined knowledge and competencies-based benchmarks, check that learning outcomes have been met, and to differentiate between levels of achievement, which can help to determine an individual’s future development needs. Within the healthcare industry, traditional summative assessment methods trend towards knowledge-check questions, with learners often selecting the correct answer or answers to a series of multiple-choice questions on a virtual platform. Although this is ideal for collecting metrics, especially when collating data from hundreds of participants, this sort of testing can often lack the depth of understanding and rarely encourages the application of knowledge necessary to translate learning into professional roles. So, how can you use your assessments to get your learners real-world ready?
What is real-world learning?
Best-in-class training programs draw on the practices and principles of real world learning (RWL), an approach that describes any learning material that encourages learners to use and adapt knowledge and skills in ways that are as close to the learners’ intended real-world applications as possible. In practice, this often involves learners performing real-world, or real-world-like tasks – such as presenting key data to a specific audience like a patient advisory group, demonstrating the correct way to use a medical device, or handling an objection from an HCP – that establish meaningful applications of the essential knowledge and skills. RWL is intended to provide learners with engaging experiences that close the gap between theory and practice.
Additionally, RWL encourages the holistic development necessary for effective lifelong learning; learners are encouraged to lessen their dependency on trainers and facilitators to tell them what is right or wrong and where to go next and, instead, increase their autonomy and proactivity by scaffolding independent learning. In many industries, RWL embeds desirable practices that directly impact decision-making. RWL may also offer a more personalised learning experience, fostering a culture of coaching and mentorship, rather than traditional one-way information dissemination, such as lecture-style presentations, which often offer little room for experimentation, practice, and personalised feedback.
Real-world learning takes place throughout most people’s learning journey from childhood through to adulthood.
How do we assess RWL?
A series of “authentic” assessments can be used to measure RWL in meaningful ways. Authentic assessment is also based on real-world applications of knowledge and skills, placing a greater emphasis on an integrated or cross-functional performance of the individual. It often, but not always, comprises of the performance of a task that is measured against a rubric – followed by personalised feedback or a two-way conversation between the trainer and trainee. This differs from traditional assessment (such as multiple-choice knowledge-check questions), which encourages simple retention of a body of knowledge. Real-world learning and authentic assessment contribute to the construction of a learning-centred, rather than content-centred curriculum that, as we have previously discussed, is instrumental to repositioning the patient as the ultimate priority in healthcare learning and development.
While memorisation of certain facts is important for many roles, including those of the MSL and sales in medical affairs teams, meaningful RWL and authentic assessments allow those facts not only to be acquired, but also organised and applied in their professional contexts, enabling competencies (the combination of knowledge and skills) to be developed and more accurately tested alongside the retention of knowledge. Simple changes, such as the implementation of peer-reviews or discussion and reflection exercises, provide opportunities to apply, evaluate, and reinforce learning, as well as strengthen group or team dynamics. Authentic assessments may come with a perceived increased challenge or risk and work most effectively when formative (practice) opportunities are crafted into your training to enable learners to prepare, but they are key to helping lessen the bridge between theory and practice, which is being maintained by traditional assessment techniques.
How do we design authentic assessments?
Designing authentic assessments should not be arduous and if you work with a quality training provider they will have lots of ideas to help maximise the benefits of RWL for your team. We’ve talked before about the importance of undertaking a needs analysis and designing your intended learning outcomes up front, both tactics that will help you determine what types of assessment will be most appropriate for your learners. Some of our favourite examples include:
It should be noted that traditional assessment is still a very useful tool alongside authentic assessment, especially in cases where theoretical knowledge forms a large base of the skills of knowledge required. Additionally, traditional assessments offer useful quantitative data on the general retention status of the learners.
A pharmaceutical case study
Within the pharmaceutical industry, there has been an increased demand for innovative L&D solutions, to keep up with skills shortages, strict compliance training, and an ever-changing landscape that requires frequent updating of training. Authentic assessment gives L&D providers and managers the opportunity to develop new approaches to learning, including tailored social and collaborative learning that is more important than ever as social distancing and remote working continues to shape our working and personal lives.
For example, sales representative and MSLs are often trained on how to have tough conversations with HCPs. Here, quality and depth of knowledge is necessary to lead persuasive conversations whilst maintaining factual accuracy. Thus, testing is still often performed in a traditional manner, in a way that ensures retention of often complex technical medical knowledge but may lack real-world input. Working with a recent client of ours, we implemented real-world based virtual session, which comprised a Q&A panel on how experts would handle the 10 most common objections to a particular medical product, and was then followed by an assessed role-play amongst small groups of participants who had to collaborate to handle 1 or 2 of the same objections based on their learning from the main session. This scenario involved sharing key information and data with the learners with the facilitators simulating a real-world conversation between MSL and HCP, before the delegates had to process, retain, and apply they had learned in real time, responding to concerns from experts, peers, or assessors taking the role of an “HCP.” It differed from real-world practice in that the learners could collaborate before responding but was otherwise a strong representation of a real-world task and enabled networking and peer-to-peer learning to take place. Authentic assessments should aim to be as close to real-world as possible and should be measured against metrics that give a detailed insight into learner performance – including qualitative measures such as behaviour and clarity of communication.
Real-world learning and authentic assessments are playing an ever more important role in both higher-education facilities and in industry. The design and implementation of authentic assessment can only help to encourage long-term learning and embed necessary behaviours and practices. Although measures must be taken to ensure objectivity and fairness in marking authentic assessments, there is no denying the strengths of a real-world approach to learning & development to ensure your teams are real-world ready.
OPEN Health’s L&D team brings together unique skill sets and a wealth of healthcare training and communications experience, which means we can offer high-quality, bespoke, self-directed learning programs to our clients. If you would like to hear more about how we collaborate with our clients to design, develop and deliver competitive training programs, please get in touch.
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