It turns out that, as training and education professionals, we may be failing to utilize “tests” to their maximum instructional goodness and benefit.

I was just recently reminded that, beyond a test’s usefulness as a dipstick to aid in the measurement of knowledge or assessment of proficiency, if we test our learners on the knowledge we have shared we can also significantly increase the likelihood that they will remember it when they need it. Likewise, if we administer 2 or 3 small tests (think 3 – 5 items) over a brief period of time following the sharing of the knowledge, we can positively impact the probability of our students recalling our lessons. For that reason, when we’re designing courses for our clients, we’re advocating for more testing as part of the instructional strategy and content development processes, including the use of small tests at 3, 7, and 21 days following the lessons.

As one that has always enjoyed a good test, I didn’t need to be told that testing could be beneficial. That said, like most instructional designers I know, I’ve tended to rely on testing as a means of validation that my students did or didn’t learn something from the course, e.g., pre-course/post-course. That was until a friend gave me a copy of profoundly interesting book, “Make It Stick” (P. Brown, H. Roediger, M. McDaniel). If you haven’t yet purchased a copy, please make it a priority as it is likely to challenge how you think about learning and, more importantly, what we as instructional designers might do to improve the effectiveness of our courses. But trainers be forewarned: it may shake you to your very core.

Also worth noting, and some additional praise for “Make it Stick,” the esteemed cognitive scientists (Roediger and McDaniel) behind the technical insights represented in the book purposefully collaborated with a “storyteller” (Brown) in an effort to make their scientific work more accessible. In a time when instructional designers are searching for ways to make their content more engaging, “Make It Stick” represents an outstanding case study.

That’s a lot of bang for your book bucks!

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