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Help Members Grow Their Skills With Authentic Assessments

  • 5 Min Read

Authentic assessments don’t just test knowledge—they require learners to apply it in engaging ways that prepare them for real-world situations


Surveys indicating a workforce skills gap continue to pile up. The World Economic Forum’s 2020 Future of Jobs Report found that 44% of the skills employees currently have will need to change by 2025, so it’s no surprise that 87% of employers in the U.S. believe they will have a skills gap in the next few years.

Addressing this gap is a shared responsibility that requires a collaborative approach between individuals and institutions, and membership associations have a valuable role to play. In fact, the skills gap represents an opportunity to engage members and drive revenue. According to PwC, 77% of workers are ready to learn new skills or retrain, and 74% see training as a matter of personal responsibility—meaning your members are looking for these opportunities themselves, not waiting around for employers to provide them.

But in order to establish yourself as the first resource members think of when they think of upskilling, you’ve got to ensure your education and training offerings can prepare members for the next steps in their development journeys. At our recent Association Executive Symposium, Jeff Salin, learning experience consulting manager, and Ruth Cuthbert, learning experience consultant, shared how using authentic assessments in your online learning programs produces tangible benefits for your members.

What Are Authentic Assessments?

Traditional assessments measure the knowledge of the content that’s been presented. They’re typically given at the end of a module or course and determine whether the learner can progress to the next level.

“The simple “no that was wrong, try again” answer is no longer effective feedback, and that’s what we see in a lot of online learning. We need to look at other ways that we can expand their experiences and give them that unique feedback.” —Ruth Cuthbert, learning experience consultant, D2L

Authentic assessments, on the other hand, evaluate whether learners can successfully apply what they’re learning to realistic situations and contexts. These assessments are part of the learning process, so they don’t just measure learning. They build and reinforce it through relevant tasks that allow the learner to see their own progress.

Title: Bloom's Taxonomy. Graphic of a lightbulb split into 6 layers going from dark green at the bottom to light green at the top. Layers are labeled from bottom to top: Knowledge, Comprehension, Application, Analysis, Synthesis, Evaluation. Down the left, brackets labeled Multiple-Choice, T/F Quizzes/Exams enclose the bottom two layers, and brackets labeled Authentic Assessment enclose the top 4 layers. Down the right side is a vertical arrow with points on both ends, the top point labelled Higher Order Thinking/Skills, the bottom arrow labeled Lower Order Thinking/Skills.

How do authentic assessments prepare members for what’s next for them? By being engaging, realistic and collaborative. Let’s discuss each of these.

Authentic Assessments Are Engaging

With traditional assessments, learners usually do auto-graded quizzes and tests that measure how much knowledge they’ve absorbed from the learning content. While this kind of assessment is sometimes necessary, let’s face it—it can be dull. When learners go through content just to pass a test, it turns the assessment into just another box to check on the way to the goal of simple completion.

Authentic assessments integrate assessment as part of the learning content. Learners don’t just read text and watch videos. Instead, they participate in a journey of uncovering and applying knowledge, solving problems and iterating solutions as part of the learning process. This process is engaging because it requires the use of higher-order thinking skills to work through meaningful activities.

“None of us are here to take a course just to know something. We’re here to take a course so that we can apply it on the job.” —Jeff Salin, learning experience consulting manager, D2L

Authentic Assessments Translate to Real-World Situations

When members seek out learning opportunities, they’re looking for the skills they need to confidently do their jobs and grow their careers. Authentic assessments prepare learners by incorporating realistic, experiential activities so members can test their skills and make mistakes in a safe setting.

By incorporating this kind of opportunity into your learning programs, you are offering something to your learners that goes beyond knowledge and comprehension. You are offering them the chance to tackle relevant problems they encounter in their work and problem-solve their way through the challenges that inevitably pop up.

“We want to prepare our members to take on real-life challenges. If we’re not including case studies and different scenario-based learning, then we’re not really setting them up to go into the workforce and start applying this.” —Jeff Salin

Authentic Assessments Create Collaborative Learning Opportunities

Unlike tests and quizzes, which are solo activities by design, authentic assessments enhance collaboration and create positive teaching and learning relationships. Collaborative construction of knowledge is incredibly valuable for your members because it recognizes the existing knowledge and skills that each individual brings to the learning environment to the benefit of everyone in the course. This results in a unique learning experience for each group of learners, providing value they could not get anywhere else.

It’s important to point out that collaborative learning opportunities are not limited to in-person learning. Jeff says:

“So many people get the social aspect of online learning wrong. They fail to understand that there are tools within the LMS, outside the LMS, using social media feeds that really allow you to have that collaborative construction of knowledge.”

The online learning you offer your members has the potential to provide a rich, collective learning experience that’s a realistic part of the learning process, especially with the increase in remote and hybrid work. Working through authentic assessments in an environment that closely mirrors many workplaces has the added benefit of requiring learners to apply online communication skills and problem-solving skills.

Move the Needle on Member Performance

Providing your members with knowledge and credentials is an important part of your learning programs, but it isn’t the full story. The real value you offer your members comes from performance improvements back on the job. Using authentic assessments moves the needle on your members’ performance. And when your members excel, it elevates the whole profession.

Written by:

Serena Loy

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Table of Contents

  1. What Are Authentic Assessments?
  2. Authentic Assessments Are Engaging
  3. Authentic Assessments Translate to Real-World Situations
  4. Authentic Assessments Create Collaborative Learning Opportunities