There are all kinds of tests. From summarized learning evaluation tests, to final scoring tests like exams and SATs. But no matter what you call them, there is no ignoring the dread we often associate with those terms.
We've always used tests to evaluate comprehension or knowledge, but what if the learning industry has it all wrong? What if, instead, we used tests as a part of the learning process? Could it change how we learn? Could it change our emotional relationship with the word "test"?
These kinds of tests are called pre-tests or formative evaluations.
Formative Evaluations Prime the Brain
Testing is studying. According to Harlen and James, a formative evaluation is essentially positive in intent, in that it is directed towards promoting learning—it primes the brain for what's coming. Formative evaluations are, therefore, a part of the learning rather than a test to evaluate learning (1).
Formative evaluations are most effective when feedback is provided quickly or when the correct answers are supplied soon after.
After experiencing a formative evaluation, the learner automatically looks for the same concepts and the distinctions between those concepts, and when it's time to retrieve that information again they'll also be better equipped to think critically.
Formative Evaluation is Key to Critical Thinking
It’s repeatedly noted that formative evaluations actually enrich and alter memories. Formative evaluation ignites critical thinking skills. They aid the learner in how they think about the material, how they organize it mentally, and how they use it to make judgments about what's important and what is less so (2).
How We Use Formative Evaluations
At sageCrowd, formative evaluation is a key element of the sageCrowd Way methodology. It precedes every teaching, and we use a very precise approach where all the answers are plausible so the learner has to pay very close attention to context and think critically to guess the correct answer.
We also complete each teaching with the same formative evaluation. This reinforces the learning experience by providing feedback on the learner's answers, along with an evaluation and ranking of each answer.
While we do record results, the purpose is not to provide a final score as in a summative evaluation. Rather, the results are feedback to incent the learner. Their purpose is to enable the learner to structure their understanding of the skill and build powerful ideas and context.
Formative evaluations help to create self-efficacy and a motivating learning environment for the next sequence of teaching. Adding formative evaluation to any learning experience is a great way to frame the teaching of skills. Formative evaluations engage the brain and we learn better as a result.
What To Do Next:
Want to know what else modern learning science has to say about designing more effective training? Download sageCrowd's whitepaper The Brain's Natural Learning Cycles: Implications for Skill Development.
1. Harlen, Wynne and James, Mary (1997) 'Assessment and Learning: differences and relationships between formative and summative assessment', Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 4: 3, 365 — 379
2. Carey, Benedict, How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where and Why It Happens, Random House, 2014
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