At School we became so used to testing that it became second nature. Short testing every few weeks was a great way to prepare us students not just for the exam, but for the deep understanding needed to apply the topic in practice. What teachers did not do, however, was to finish each lesson with 10 short questions about what had happened in the 45 to 90 minute lesson we had just attended. That’s because teachers know that this would interfere with our ability to learn. Educator and biologist, James Zull, explained that our brains learn in a four-part cycle in the following order:
‘Gathering’ raw materials in the form of vision, touch, position, smell and taste.
- ‘Reflection’ to pause, digest and search for connections to integrate the information received with existing knowledge.
- ‘Creating’ knowledge in the form of ideas, plans and concepts. This is far more than just receiving information; it is manipulating the information in our memory to create new relationships and meanings.
- ‘Active testing’ by converting mental ideas into actions such as reading, explaining and talking.
Nowhere in the middle or end of this cycle is a short test. Not only can questions be a hindrance rather than a benefit but they can also be used to hide poor training if questions are used to break up the monotony of the training or, worse, test that the learner was present. In this case, the issue becomes more about the quality of the training than the genuine need to test.
Some people also prescribe to asking questions before the training begins to ascertain a learner’s knowledge. This can be useful but also comes with it’s own set of problems. Compliance is not a technical topic; it’s a behavioral topic. We all know that it is wrong to bribe, bully, harass, take risks and the countless other acts that may breach the law. But it still happens with surprising regularity.
Good compliance training is not about teaching people about what they can’t do; it’s about helping people to understand the topic in the context of their role and the environment that they work in.
The only time I love to use questions is when they are about someone’s role. In this regard, I’m an advocate for ‘risk to role’ training that meets the risk profile of its learners’ roles rather than their apparent knowledge. This allows learners to feel more like an individual, saves the company time and enables Compliance to demonstrate to their Board and the Regulators that the training is relevant both to the risks of the company and people’s specific roles.