Assessment and learning

Oct 13, 2023

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Many studies have analyzed successful pedagogical models. Their knowledge and the analysis of their lessons make it possible to enrich learning, in particular by addressing the problem of objective assessment in business.

Assessment and learning.

Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives

In a landmark work, Bloom (Bloom, BS; Engelhart, MD; Furst, EJ; Hill, WH; Krathwohl, DR (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals. Handbook I: Cognitive Domain. New York: David McKay Company) explains the different ways of knowing something.

He points out that this knowledge requires different levels of mental abstraction.

When we approach a new subject, our cognitive process includes the following phases:

  1. Receiving knowledge (lowest level),

  2. Giving it meaning (understanding),

  3. Using it (application),

  4. Constructing a mental representation of the context.

Bloom insists on the phase of synthesis which "consists in arranging and combining the fragments, parts, elements, etc., so as to form a plan, or structure, which one did not clearly distinguish before".

Thus, by structuring questions according to these different stages (knowledge, understanding, use, etc.), teachers or trainers can more easily determine where their students' weaknesses lie.

When constructing an assessment, it is necessary to diversify the types of questions by soliciting the various mental tasks (analysis, synthesis, deduction, assessment) which make it possible to acquire solid knowledge

The behaviorist model

The behaviorist model is based on a "stimulation-response" learning model and produces the bases of programmed teaching

This model is the result of the combinaison of the works on behavior of Pavlov in animal psychology (1890) and those of Skinner in experimental psychology (1978). The psychologist Skinner is considered the father of programmed instruction (ancestor of computer-assisted instruction). He proposes a linear conception of programmed teaching which was later branched out by Crowder.

Skinner's linear approach is based on dividing teaching into progressive goals  to be achieved. Learning follows the pattern: stimulus, response, reward if successful, reinforcement. The error is without appeal and very penalizing, sometimes even traumatizing. 

Crowder's approach relies on tree-based learning. Depending on whether they answer a, b or c to a question, the student will continue with a different activity. The error is possible and even valued because it makes it possible to detect a gap.

Help is offered depending on the answer chosen. Note that Skinner constructed multiple-choice questions, but feared that the student, by making a mistake, would create an incorrect question-answer association. He therefore preferred that the student write down his answer and compare it to the correct answer.

This is the birth of pedagogy by objectives. The error is considered a shortcoming requiring reinforcement. The limitation of this model is that it does not present a knowledge acquisition component.

3 principles, resulting from this shared teaching, are applicable to assessments in companies:

  • Breaking down complex skills into small objectives,
  • Remediation in the event of an error,
  • Frequent evaluation of small objectives to provoke learning: regular training reinforces knowledge.

The constructivist model

Unlike the behaviorist model, the constructivist model (Piaget, The birth of intelligence in children, Paris, Delachaux and Niestlé, 1936; The construction of reality in children, Paris, Delachaux and Niestlé, 1937) views the error positively.

It comes from the work of Piaget, who believes that knowledge is built. The image of tectonic plates moving on the Earth's surface is a metaphor used to illustrate Piaget's approach. Learning must take place in an active environment, where activities lead to reflection and challenge mental representations.

Knowledge is built and learning requires the student to be active. The role of the teacher is to create pedagogical situations where the student is active and asks questions. Whatever the framework put in place by the teacher (case study, group problem solving, questioning game between the student and the teacher, etc.), the student builds his knowledge in the activity.

The exercise of creating questions on a topic is very formative and a great way to learn and prepare for an assessment.

Vygotsky's social constructivism model

At the same time as Piaget, but without knowing it at first, a Russian psychologist, Vygotsky, became interested in the social interactions of cognitive processes allowing learning.

His model is also based on the fact that learning happens through action, but Vygotsky adds a new dimension, by affirming that one learns best through contact with others, that learning must be collaborative.

This method of learning with others has the advantage of leading the student to explain his strategies, which will anchor his knowledge even more. Knowledge is built even better by sharing and exchanging on its strategies.

In business, where the meeting is not always easy to organize, contributing to a database of questions is a good option for communicating, sharing knowledge and learning from others. 

Cognitivism and work in neuro-education

Cognitivism developed thanks to the emergence of computing, establishing a parallel between the mind/brain couple and the hardware/software couple. Memory processes and collects new information and then restores it according to different strategies.

Much more recently, research in neuro-education has given some easy-to-implement ways to improve learning. Among these advices, we will note that it is necessary to:

  • Structure the knowledge, because the short-term memory (STM) can retain, on average, only 7 items,

  • Use repetition to anchor in the memory. A reminder 24 hours after the initial learning allows the knowledge to be integrated for a week. If the recall occurs a week later, the acquaintance remains for a month. Finally, a reminder one month later will last 6 months.

  • Adding concrete to the abstract makes it easier to make the link between theory and practice. For example, "Here is your snack, give half to your brother" will be more effective than the sentence "When we divide by two, we get half",

  • Vary the approaches and the supports. There are different learning habits in different cultures and countries. Varying the techniques and representations makes it possible to adapt and approach the different facets of a skill,

  • Reassure: the 3 layers of the brain (reptilian, mammalian and cortex) work with decreasing priorities. If hunger or fear torments us, the cortex is disconnected making it difficult to learn. It is therefore imperative to establish a climate of trust so that everyone gives the best of themselves,

  • Split the time in several parts: It is better to do a 15-minute test and move on. It is also beneficial to summarize the session at the end of the test.

Some principles to apply to construct an assessment:

  • Structure knowledge,

  • Construct similar questions to allow repetition,

  • Provide concrete examples,

  • Vary the supports,

  • Do short tests,

  • Present a summary at the end of the test,

  • Leave a comfortable time to respond in order to avoid stress.

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