Q&A: Sue Martin and John Kleeman discuss steps to building a certification program

Posted by Zainab Fayaz

Certification programs are a vital way of recognizing knowledge, skills and professional expertise, but, during a time of digital transformation, how do you build a program that is sustainable and adaptable to the evolving needs of your organization, stakeholders and the market?

Questionmark Founder and Executive Director, John Kleeman and Sue Martin, certification expert and Business Transformation Consultant will present the upcoming webinar Building a Certification Program in 10 easy stepsat 4pm (GMT) / 11am Eastern / 5pm CET on 12 February 2019. However, before then, we wanted to find out a little bit more about what they’ll be covering during the session, so we’ve interviewed the two experts to gain insight!

Tell us a bit about what you’ll be covering during the webinar:

Sue: During the webinar, we’ll be covering a range of things; from the conceptual steps of building a certification program to the many projects that have evolved from these and the importance of outlining key steps from the very beginning of the process for creating a comprehensive and cohesive certification program.

We will also talk about the value certification program, can add to an organization, not only in the short-haul but also for many years to come. It is important to remember, “why” and “what” you are trying to achieve, and this webinar will provide detail on how the alignment of strategic goals and communication with stakeholders contributes to the success of an adaptable certification program.

John: We’ll be discussing a range of things during the webinar, but here are the ten easy steps that we’ll be describing:

  1. Business goals
  2. Scope
  3. Security
  4. Vendor evaluation
  5. Blueprint and test design
  6. Test development
  7. Pilot
  8. Communications
  9. Delivery
  10. Reporting and monitoring

What influenced the selection of these 10-steps you have identified in building a certification program?

John:  Sue and I sat down to plan the webinar when we were together at the OEB conference in Berlin in December. Although we wanted to cover a bit some of the obvious things like test design and development, we wanted to make sure people think first about the preparation and planning, for example getting organization buy-in and working out how to market and communicate the program to stakeholders. So we’ll be focusing on what you need to do to make a successful program, and that will drive everything you do

Although you’ll be covering the key steps for building a certification program during the webinar, can you advise on three key steps you find to be the most important during the process:

Sue:
1. Planning:
The emphasis of the program’s work should be at the start, in the planning phase – especially in order to build a flexible program which will adapt to the needs of your audience and stakeholders as their needs change over time. In all of the individual project components, whether it be test creation, vendor evaluation or communications rollout, for example, design and plan for the end goal. For example, when it comes to creating an exam, you plan for it right at the start of the project – you hit the ground running! It is not all about item writing, but also the development of the project from the beginning and if you don’t plan; this can lead to the lack of validity in the exam program and inconsistency over time

2. Practical tips and tricks for approaching various elements of your program development: It is important to set out the target audience; identify their learning journey and how they learn – in knowing this, can you go forward and build a certification program that can become integrated and aligns with the learning process

3. Scope: This is very important; setting the scope is a priority. Of course, in the greater scheme of things; you’ll have a mission statement, which provides you with a strategic vision, but when it comes to the finer detail and knowing what countries to enter, the pricing structure or knowing whether to offer remote proctoring; always keep in mind three things: the value contribution, the stakeholders and ask yourselves “yes, but why?”; as this will help align with organizational objectives.

What can attendees take away from the webinar you’ll present?  

Sue: Those attending will learn the value and importance of planning and questioning everything from the start of the process. We’ll share advice on the importance of having a value statement for every part of the process and making sure you know that a certification program is what you are looking for. By attending you can walk away with knowing the operational and strategic steps you must go through in order to build a program that is sustainable; think of it as a checklist!

John: If you’re starting a new certification program, I think this webinar will help guide you and help you create it more easily and more effectively. And if you already have a certification program and want to improve it, you’ll probably be doing a lot of what we suggest already but I hope they’ll be something for everyone to take away and learn.

Want to know more?

If you’re interested in learning more about the steps to building a certification program that meets the needs of your organization and stakeholders; then join John and Sue deliver a webinar session dedicated to Building a Certification Program in 10 easy steps on 12 February 2019 at 4pm (GMT) / 11am Eastern / 5pm CET.

You can register here.

A little bit more about our two experts:

John Kleeman is Executive Director and Founder of Questionmark. He has a first-class degree from Trinity College, Cambridge, and is a Chartered Engineer and a Certified Information Privacy Professional/Europe (CIPP/E). John wrote the first version of the Questionmark assessment software system and then founded Questionmark in 1988 to market, develop and support it. John has been heavily involved in assessment software for 30 years and has also participated in several standards initiatives including IMS QTI, ISO 23988 and ISO 10667. John was recently elected to the Association of Test Publishers (ATP) Board of Directors.

Sue Martin is a trusted advisor to companies and institutions across Europe in the area of workforce credentialing, learning strategies and certification. Her career prior to consulting included a role as Senior Global Certification Director for SAP and several regional and global management roles in the testing industry. She has also held several positions within industry institutions, such as the Chair of the European Association of Test Publishers and is currently a member of the Learning & Development Committee at BCS (British Computer Society).

 

Q&A: Microlearning and the Role of Measurement in Learning and Development at Progressive

 

Posted by Kristin Bernor

Chris Gilbert is a Senior Instructional Designer for Progressive Insurance, one of the largest providers of insurance in the United States. During his case study presentation at the 2019 Questionmark Conference in San Diego taking place from February 26 – March 1, he will talk about Using Questionmark to Build Microlearning for Photo Estimators. Progressive photo estimators use videos and photographs to identify damage and write estimates for necessary repairs.

This session will explore Progressive’s use of microlearning modules and the process they use to develop them.

I asked him recently about their case study:

Tell us about Progressive and your use of assessments:

At Progressive, we seek to make informed, data-driven decisions. We also strive to prepare and develop our people through effective, targeted learning solutions. In our learning orgs, assessments are one mechanism for gathering data we use to make a variety of decisions, including:

  • Identifying aspects and features of learning experiences that resonate within our target audiences so we can implement them in more of our deliverables
  • Pinpointing opportunities to improve learning experiences for our target audiences

Over the past few years, we’ve had a renewed focus on the importance of learning measurement and have established and implemented standards and tools for performing Level 1 and Level 2 measurement across and within all of our learning organizations. We’re currently working on Level 3 measurement to be able to measure and communicate the on-the-job impact of our learning experiences more consistently.

What do you mean by microlearning and why is it important to Progressive?

Microlearning is skill-based learning delivered in small “bite-sized” pieces. Microlearning can be developed in a variety of formats including videos, games, scenarios, and several others. Depending on the situation and needs of the organization and learners, microlearning can be delivered standalone, or as a supplement other learning experiences like in-person or virtual classroom courses.

Progressive is interested in adding microlearning into our learning deliverable portfolio for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Faster development times can improve our ability to deliver just-in-time learning solutions at the speed of modern business and change
  • Tightly-focused, skill-based topics and practice directly support on-the-job application
  • Today’s corporate learners seek quick-hit learning that gives them practical tools they need to succeed
  • Delivered in conjunction with other learning experiences, microlearning can help learners overcome the forgetting curve

What role does Questionmark play in ensuring that microlearning is successful?

One of the primary reasons, we decided to use Questionmark for our microlearning pilot project is that the data the system captures and it’s reporting capabilities allow us to provide the business with insights into several aspects of the learners’ performance in the modules. In turn, these insights will help the business make informed decisions.

What else about your session would you like to share?

Besides sharing the story of our first foray into microlearning, I’m planning to discuss some of the learnings we had related to question-type capabilities that we hadn’t previously explored.

Who would benefit most from attending this session and why?

a. Anyone interested in using Questionmark beyond its traditional use because the way we’re using it is a bit unconventional

b. Anyone interested in adding microlearning to their learning deliverable portfolio because Questionmark may provide a way for them to develop, deliver, and report the results

c. Anyone interested in extending the functionality of Questionmark question types to meet a business need because I’ll dig into some of the challenges, realizations, and learnings I experienced from having to extend a few of the question types in the pilot project

What are you especially looking forward to at this year’s Questionmark conference?

Meeting and networking with other Questionmark users, especially those who are passionate about the role of measurement in learning and development, and gaining more insight into how others are using system features and functionality in their organizations

Thank you Chris for taking time out of your busy schedule to discuss your session with us!

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If you have not already done so, you still have a chance to attend this important learning event. Click here to register.

What time limit is fair to set for an online test or exam?

John KleemanPosted by John KleemanPicture of a sand timer

How do you know what time limit to set for a test or exam? I’m presenting a webinar on December 18th on some tips on how you can improve your tests and exams (it’s free of charge, register here) and this is one of the subjects I’ll be covering. In the meantime, this blog gives some good practice on setting a time limit.

Power tests

The first thing to identify is what the test is seeking to measure, and whether this has a speed element. Most tests are “power” tests in that they seek to measure someone’s knowledge or skill, not how fast it can be demonstrated. In a power test, you could set no time limit, but for practical purposes, it’s usual to set a time limit. This should allow most people to have enough time to complete answering the questions.

The best way to set a time limit is to pilot the test and measure how long pilot participants take to answer questions and use this to set an appropriate time period. If you have an established testing program, you may have organizational guidelines on time limits, for example you might allow a certain number of seconds or minutes per question; but even if you have such guidelines, you must still check that they are reasonable for each test.

Speed tests

Sometimes, speed is an important part of what you are trying to measure, and you need to measure that someone not only can demonstrate knowledge or skill but can also do so quickly. In a speed test, failure to be able to answer quickly may mean that the participant does not meet the requirements for what is being measured.

For example, in a compliance test for bank personnel to check their knowledge of anti-bribery and corruption laws, speed is probably not part of what is being measured. It will be rare in practice for people to encounter real-life issues involving bribery and very reasonable for them to think and consider before answering. But if you are testing a medical professional’s ability to react to a critical symptom in a trauma patient and make a decision on a possible intervention, rapid response is likely part of the requirement.

When speed is part of the requirements of what is being measured, the time limit for the test should be influenced by the performance requirements of the job or skill being measured.

Monitoring time limits

For all tests, it is important to review the actual time taken by participants to ensure that the time limit remains appropriate. You should regularly check the proportion of participants who answer all the questions in the test and those who skip or miss out some questions. In a speed test, it is likely that many participants will not finish the test. But if many participants are failing to complete a power test, then this should be investigated and may mean that the time limit is too short and needs extending.

If the time limit for a power test is too short, then essentially it becomes a speed test and is measuring how fast participants can demonstrate their skills. As such, if this is not part of the purpose of the test, it will impact the validity of the test results and it’s likely that the test will mis-classify people and so be unfair.

A particular point of concern is when you are using computerized tests to test people who are not proficient computer users. They will inevitably be slower than proficient computer users, and unless your test seeks to measure computer proficiency, you need to allow such people enough time.

What about people who need extra time?

It’s common to give extra time as accommodation for certain kinds of special needs. Extra time is also sometimes given for linguistic reasons e.g. taking an assessment in second language. Make sure that your assessment system lets you override the time limit in such cases. Ideally base the extra time in such cases on piloting, not just a fixed extra percentage.

Screenshot showing a setting where it is possible to exclude material from the assessment time limitWhen should a time limit start?

My last tip is that the time limit should only start when the questions begin. If you are presenting any of these:

  • Introductory material or explanation
  • Practice questions
  • An honor code to commit to staying honest and not cheating
  • Demographic questions

The time limit should start after these are done. If you are using Questionmark software, you can make this happen by excluding the question block from the assessment time limit.

 

If you are interested in more tips on improving your tests and exams, register to attend our free webinar on December 18th:  10 Quick Tips to Improve your Tests and Exams.

How to Navigate Assessments through the GDPR Automated Decision-Making Rules

John KleemanPosted by John Kleeman

The GDPR has got a lot of publicity for its onerous consent requirements, large fines and the need to inform of data breaches. But there are other aspects of GDPR which have implications for assessment users. To protect human rights, the GDPR imposes restrictions on letting machines make decisions about people, and these limitations can apply when using computerized assessments. Here is how one of the recitals to the GDPR describes the principle:

“The data subject should have the right not to be subject to a decision … evaluating personal aspects relating to him or her which is based solely on automated processing and which produces legal effects concerning him or her or similarly significantly affects him or her, such as automatic refusal of an online credit application or e-recruiting practices without any human intervention.”

In some cases, it is actually illegal in the European Union to use a computerized test or exam to make a significant decision about a person. In other cases, it is permissible but you need to put in place specific measures.  The assessment industry has always been very careful about reliability, validity and fairness of tests and exams, so these measures are navigable, but you need to follow the rules. The diagram below shows what is allowed, with or without protection measures in place, and what is forbidden.

Flowchart describing rules on automated decision-making in the GDPR

 

 

When you are free from restriction

For many assessments, the GDPR rules will not impose any prohibitions, as shown by the green “Allowed” box in the diagram:

  • If you are only making minor decisions from an assessment, you do not need to worry.  For example, if you are delivering e-learning, and you decide which path to go next depending on an assessment, that is unlikely to significantly impact the assessment participant.  But if the assessment impacts significant things, like jobs, promotions or access to education, or has a legal effect, the restrictions will apply.
  • Even if decisions made do have legal or significant effects, the GDPR only restricts solely automated decision-making. If humans are genuinely part of the decision process, for example with the ability to change the decision, this is not solely automated decision-making. This doesn’t mean that an assessment is okay if humans wrote the questions or set the pass score; it means that humans must review the results before making a decision about a person based on the test. For example, if a recruitment test screens someone automatically out of a job application process without a person intervening, the GDPR consider this to be solely automated decision-making. But if an employee fails a compliance test, and this is referred to a person who reviews the test results and other information and genuinely decides the action to take, that is not solely automated decision making.

What to do if the restrictions apply

If the GDPR restrictions do apply, you have to go through some logic as shown in the diagram to see if you are permitted to do this at all. If you do not fall into the permitted cases, it will be illegal to make the decision according to the GDPR (the red boxes). In other cases, it is permitted to use automated decision-making, but you have to put measures in place (the yellow boxes). Here are some of the key measures a data controller (usually the assessment sponsor) may take if the yellow boxes apply, for example when using assessments in screening candidates for recruiting:

  1. Provide a route where test takers can appeal the assessment result and the decision and have a human review;
  2. Inform test takers that you are using automated decision making and what the consequences for them will be;
  3. Provide meaningful information about the logic involved. I suggest this might include publishing an explanation of how questions are created and reviewed, how the scoring works and in a pass/fail test, how the pass score is arrived at fairly;
  4. Have mechanisms in place to ensure the ongoing quality and fairness of the test. The regulators aren’t precise about what you need to do, but one logically important thing would be to ensure that the question and test authoring process results in a demonstrably valid and reliable test. And to maintain validity and reliability, it’s important to conduct regular item analysis and other reviews to ensure quality is maintained.
  5. Perform and document a Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA) to check that test taker’s rights and interests are being respected, if the assessment will involve a systematic and extensive evaluation of personal aspects relating to the test taker or otherwise gives a high risk to rights.  Questionmark has produced a template for DPIAs which might help here – see www.questionmark.com/go/eu-od-dpiatemplate.

Although these measures might appear threatening on first sight, in fact they could be helpful for the quality of assessments. As I describe in my blog post What is the best way to reduce cheating?, providing information to test-takers about how the test is created and scored and why this is fair, can help reduce cheating by making the test-taker less likely to rationalize  that cheating is fair. And it is generally  good practice to use an assessment as one piece of data along with other criteria to make a decision about someone. The increased visibility and transparency of the assessment process by following the requirements above could also encourage better practice in assessment, and so more reliable, valid and trustable assessments for all.

If you want to find out more about the rules, there is guidance available from the European Data Protection Board and from the UK Information Commissioner. Questionmark customers who have questions in this area are also welcome to contact me. You might also like to read Questionmark’s white paper “Responsibilities of a Data Controller When Assessing Knowledge, Skills and Abilities” which you can download here.

This blog post includes my personal views only and is based on guidance currently available on the GDPR. This is a fluid area that is likely to develop over time, including through publication of additional regulator guidance and court decisions. This blog does not constitute legal advice.

The Nineteen Responsibilities of an Assessment Data Controller under the GDPR

John KleemanPosted by John Kleeman

Back in 2014,  Questionmark produced a white paper covering what at the time was a fairly specialist subject – what assessment organizations needed to do to ensure compliance with European data protection law. With the GDPR in place in 2018, with its extra-territorial reach and potential of large fines, the issue of data protection law compliance is one that all assessment users need to consider seriously.

Data Controller with two Data Processors, one of which has a Sub-Processor

Myself, Questionmark Associate Legal Counsel Jamie Armstrong and Questionmark CEO Eric Shepherd have now rewritten the white paper to cover the GDPR and published it this week. The white paper is called  “Responsibilities of a Data Controller When Assessing Knowledge, Skills and Abilities”. I’m pleased to give you a summary in this blog article.

To remind you, a Data Controller is the organization responsible for making decisions about personal data, whereas a Data Processor is an organization who processes data on behalf of the Data Controller. As shown in the diagram, a Data Processor may have Sub-Processors. In the assessment context, examples of Data Controllers might be:

  • A company that tests its personnel for training or regulatory compliance purposes;
  • A university or college that tests its students;
  • An awarding body that gives certification exams.

Data Processors are typically companies like Questionmark that provide services to assessment sponsors. Data Processors have significant obligations under the GDPR, but the Data Controller has to take the lead.  The Nineteen Responsibilities of an Assessment Data Controller under the GDPR 1. Ensure you have a legitimate reason for processing personal data 2. Be transparent and provide full information to test-takers 3. Ensure that personal data held is accurate 4. Review and deal properly with any rectification requests 5. Respond to subject access requests 6. Respond to data portability requests 7. Delete personal data when it is no longer needed 8. Review and deal properly with any erasure requests 9. Put in place strong security measures 10. Use expert processors and contract with them wisely 11. Adopt privacy by design measures 12. Notify personal data breaches promptly 13. Consider whether you need to carry out a Data Protection Impact Assessment 14. Follow the rules if moving data out of Europe 15. If collecting “special” data, follow the particular rules carefully 16. Include meaningful human input as well as assessment results in making decisions 17. Respond to restriction and objection requests 18. Train your personnel effectively 19. Meet organisational requirementsBack in 2014, we considered there were typically 12 responsibilities for an assessment Data Controller. Our new white paper suggests there are now 19. The GDPR significantly expands the responsibilities Data Controllers have as well as makes it clearer what needs to be done and the likely penalties if it is not done.

The 25 page white paper:

  • Gives a summary of European data protection law
  • Describes what we consider to be the 19 responsibilities of a Data Controller (see diagram)
  • Gives Data Controllers a checklist of the key measures they need from a Data Processor to be able to meet these responsibilities
  • Shares how Questionmark helps meet the responsibilities
  • Comments on how the GDPR by pushing for accuracy of personal data might encourage more use of valid, reliable and trustworthy assessments and benefit us all

The white paper is useful reading for anyone who delivers tests and exams to people in Europe – whether using Questionmark technology or not. Although we hope it will be helpful, like all our blog articles and white papers, this article and the white paper are not a substitute for legal advice specific to your organization’s circumstances. You can see and download all our white papers at www.questionmark.com/learningresources and you can directly download this white paper here.

Six tips to increase reliability in competence tests and exams

Posted by John Kleeman

Reliability (how consistent an assessment is in measuring something) is a vital criterion on which to judge a test, exam or quiz. This blog post explains what reliability is, why it matters and gives a few tips on how to increase it when using competence tests and exams within regulatory compliance and other work settings

What is reliability?

Picture of a kitchen scaleAn assessment is reliable if it measures the same thing consistently and reproducibly.

If you were to deliver an assessment with high reliability to the same participant on two occasions, you would be very likely to reach the same conclusions about the participant’s knowledge or skills. A test with poor reliability might result in very different scores across the two instances.

It’s useful to think of a kitchen scale. If the scale is reliable, then when you put a bag of flour on the scale today and the same bag of flour on tomorrow, then it will show the same weight. But if the scale is not working properly and is not reliable, it could give you a different weight each time.

Why does reliability matter?

Just like a kitchen scale that doesn’t work, an unreliable assessment does not measure anything consistently and cannot be used for any trustable measure of competency.

As well as reliability, it’s also important that an assessment is valid, i.e. measures what it is supposed to. Continuing the kitchen scale metaphor, a scale might consistently show the wrong weight; in such a case, the scale is reliable but not valid. To learn more about validity, see my earlier post Six tips to increase content validity in competence tests and exams.

How can you increase the reliability of your assessments?

Here are six practical tips to help increase the reliability of your assessment:

  1. Use enough questions to assess competence. Although you need a sensible balance to avoid tests being too long, reliability increases with test length. In their excellent book, Criterion-Referenced Test Development, Shrock and Coscarelli suggest a rule of thumb is 4-6 questions per objective, with more for critical objectives. You can also get guidance from an earlier post on this blog How many questions do I need on my assessment?
  2.  Have a consistent environment for participants. For test results to be consistent, it’s important that the test environment is consistent – try to ensure that all participants have the same amount of time to take the test in and have a similar environment. For example, if some participants are taking the test in a hurry in a public and noisy place and others are taking it at leisure in their office, this could impact reliability.
  3. Ensure participants are familiar with the assessment user interface. If a participant is new to the user interface or the question types, then they may not show their true competence due to the unfamiliarity. It’s common to provide practice tests to participants to allow them to become familiar with the assessment user interface. This can also reduce test anxiety which also influences reliability.
  4. If using human raters, train them well. If you are using human raters, for example in grading essays or in observational assessments that check practical skills, make sure to define your scoring rules very clearly and as objectively as possible. Train your observers/raters, review their performance, give practice sessions and provide exemplars.
  5. Measure reliability. There are a number of ways of doing this, but the most common way is to calculate what is called “Cronbach’s Alpha” which measures internal consistency reliability (the higher it is, the better). It’s particularly useful if all questions on the assessment measure the same construct. You can easily calculate this for Questionmark assessments using our Test Analysis Report.
  6. Conduct regular item analysis to weed out ambiguous or poor performing questions. Item analysis is an automated way of flagging weak questions for review and improvement. If questions are developed through sound procedures and so well crafted and non-ambiguously worded they are more likely to discriminate well and so contribute to a reliable test. Running regular item analysis is the best way to identify poorly performing questions. If you want to learn more about item analysis, I recently gave a webinar on “Item Analysis for Beginners”, and you can access the recording of this here.

 

I hope this blog post reminds you why reliability matters and gives some ideas on how to improve reliability. There is lots more information on how to improve reliability and write better assessments on the Questionmark website – check out our resources at www.questionmark.com/learningresources.