Training Evaluation Series Part 2: Formative Assessment
Few words elicit a more immediate and visceral response than the word “test.” That’s because, in most educational settings, we have testing all wrong. Often, tests are s a primary measure of success and in some instances can have lifelong ramifications—like the ACT and SAT—on one’s future. The same holds true for training evaluation. We often focus on summative evaluation used after training ends to gauge success. In contrast, formative assessment allows trainers to collect information and make immediate changes to address learning gaps before training ends.
Formative assessment refers to a variety of tools all pursuing the same goal: to “help form, or shape learning” (Trumbull and Lash, 2013, p. 2). The purpose of conducting a formative assessment is to gather information at one or more points during training to help both the trainer and trainee improve learning outcomes. Rather than waiting until the end to learn whether training was or was not successful, formative assessment allows both the trainer and trainee to make adjustments as needed to facilitate a successful outcome.
Formative assessment is embedded in training and can include tests, but also can also include role plays, games, clickers, case studies, and group discussion to identify areas that require additional attention to achieve mastery. Many active learning components that are often used in training delivery to engage learners can serve as informal tools for assessment. To use a tool as formative or summative assessment, whether a test, game, or activity, make sure:
1. It links to the demonstration of a performance objective
2. Outcomes can be measured objectively and systematically
The essential key to formative assessment lies not only in collecting information about learning but using it to guide training. Trainers may succeed in gathering evidence about learning and may accurately interpret the evidence to identify what knowledge is lacking, yet may not be able to identify, target, and carry out specific instructional steps to close the learning gaps (Heritage, et al., 2009; Herman et al., 2006). That’s because the use of formative assessment is case specific and depends on the characteristics of the instructor, the learner, the delivery mode, and the nature of the learning gap. General strategies for additional practice, worked samples, varying delivery (audio or video rather than text), peer learning, teach back, metacognitive strategies, or more time on task can close the gap.
When formative assessment works—when learning gaps are identified early in training and addressed—the results benefit both the learner and the trainer and can lead to higher levels of satisfaction, learning, and transfer.
Questions for Discussion
1. How would formative assessment tools differ from those used for summative assessment? How might they be the same?
2. Have you used formative assessment in training? If so, can you share an example, if not can you tell us why you haven’t used it?
Herman, J. L., Osmundson, E., Ayala, C., Schneider, S., & Timms, M. (2006). The nature and impact of teachers’ formative assessment practices. CRESST Report 703. Los Angeles: UCLA National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing.
Heritage, M., Kim, J., Vendlinski, T., & Herman, J. L. (2009). From evidence to action: A seamless process of formative assessment? Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 28(3), 24-31.
Trumbull, E., & Lash, A. (2013). Understanding Formative Assessment: Insights from Learning Theory and Measurement Theory.