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.
- Children may be asked to engage in real world learning in many subjects, such as building a circuit board to turn a light switch on and off as part of physics lessons, create a body frame for a local dog in the community born without hind legs for technology class, or collect, assess and identify different rock types as part of a geography field trip. Not only will the student be able to learn and absorb in a more engaging and natural way but multiple factors can also be assessed, such as time management, teamwork and organisation which are essential in the application of technical knowledge.
- At degree level, for example, nursing students must be prepared for real life situations with patients, in which their knowledge and their decision-making skills may have real life consequences. Online hospital simulator platforms may be used to present students with a fictional patient that they must observe and assess, and for whom they must create an appropriate plan of care. Some platforms offer in-depth personalisation, as the student is able to “request” a multitude of tests or perform a number of examinations. They are able to learn from both successes and failures, as they are able to make incorrect choices and see the consequences of doing so. A timeline of “clicks” made by the student can be recorded, and as assessor is then able to measure the student’s approach against the benchmarks for the performance of this task. Vitally, personal feedback can still be given, albeit virtually, to enable a deeper and richer learning environment.
- As adults, research and development centres must take measures to ensure up-to date and audit compliant training of laboratory staff, which may encompass necessary safety trainings. While traditionally this may have been done via an online test, increasingly companies are shifting towards authentic assessments. Whereas before a user may have been expected to answer a question such as “give three examples of aseptic technique” or “how would you test a tissue for the presence of acetylcholine receptors?”, now they may be asked to physically perform the skills being tested in front of an assessor. An advantage here is that multiple factors can be tested at once. For example, did the individual demonstrate aseptic techniques? Did they record their work clearly? Were they able to troubleshoot “on the job” if something went wrong? A variety of situations and skill sets can be assessed in order to safely establish the knowledge and skills of the team and the individuals have the opportunities to practice their competencies in a safe environment.
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:
- Scenario-based learning where individuals must assess the needs of an individual with a given disease, comorbidities, and concerns and identify the appropriate treatment options and pathways available to that patient.
- Role-plays where learners handle HCP objections in real-time using recalled knowledge and data
- Producing a journal article on a patient case-study to showcase knowledge, research and communication skills
- Drafting and discussing a cost-benefit analysis for a new drug or device to demonstrate understanding of the wider healthcare system
- Presenting key information to a specific audience to demonstrate relevant knowledge and appropriate communication and behavioural skills
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.