Assessing Learning

In my last post I talked about Analysis and some data pertaining to unconscious competence and the impact that that can have upon a business (a risk to health and safety, compliance and reputation). In this post I want to look at how we know learning has taken place.

Bloom’s Taxonomy has been the distinct tool of choice for the setting of measurable learning objectives in both training and teaching circles for many years. The below graphic shows the Taxonomy;


(University of Arkansas, 2017)

We can use the taxonomy to measure and assess the level of employees/learners when they learn information or skills within the workplace and as such how well they are able to recall and apply the knowledge. In my experience of workplace eLearning, this generally involves reaching the ‘Apply’ level of the taxonomy. We want to see our employees applying the skills that they have learnt to their working environment.

The main issue with workplace training and Bloom is the need to train in behaviours to address unconscious incompetence within workforces. This, for me, falls outside the remit of what Bloom’s Taxonomy can provide for us. Whilst we can use Bloom to some extent, it does not address the need to assess that the learner is actually applying the learnt behaviours in a work environment.

It appears that Bloom may not be the best approach for workplace learning. Sugrue (2002) argues that there should be no taxonomy, instead “..learners will practice or be assessed on the particular performance in representative task situations.” (Allen, 2016) Allen’s analysis of this style of assessment divides knowledge into 5 areas, defined below with the information presented to the learner;

  • Fact – The fact is needed.
  • Concept – The definition, critical attributes, examples, non examples.
  • Principle/Rule – The principle/rule, examples, analogies, stories.
  • Procedure – List of steps, demonstration.
  • Process – Description of stages, inputs, outputs, diagram, examples, stories.

(Allen, 2016)

The key to this process is the assessment process. This is split into two sections, remember and use. For example, where the fact is concerned, the learner may be asked to recognise or recall the fact in order to show remembering. To show use they will be asked to recognise or recall the fact whilst performing a task.

For me Sugrue’s principles, as applied by Allen, make for better learning experiences that are less theory based than a typical Bloom-driven experience. The focus is clearly on the use of the knowledge gained in order to perform a clear, work-based task. I also believe that this is more measurable in the workplace as we can assess learning by either simply asking for recall of facts and processes or by observing the use of the process, be this in the workplace or in a role-play or scenario-driven environment.


Allen M, (2016), “Michael Allen’s Guide to E-learning”, Second Edition, Wiley.

Sugrue B, (2002), “Problems With Blooms Taxonomy. Performance Express, December. (Sourced from Allen, 2016)

Sugrue B, (2013), “A Learning Science Alternative to Bloom’s Taxonomy”, Learning Solutions Magazine, March (Sourced from Allen, 2016)

University of Arkansas, (2017), “Using Bloom’s Taxonomy to Write Effective Learning Objectives”,, last accessed 8/4/2017.



All About Analysis

Analysis can often be a boring thing that’s uninspiring to teachers, trainers and other learning professionals. It’s often seen as a box-ticking exercise that produces information that cannot possibly be useful (this was genuinely my belief as a sixth-form teacher!).

My move into eLearning development in a corporate environment has seen me looking at data in a totally different way. Owen Ashby in his talk on Business Aligned learning identified the following statistics;

In the workplace it’s identified that;

  • 30% of workers have misplaced confidence in their abilities.
  • 50% of workers have an immediate learning need.
  • 20% of workers are confident in their abilities and competent in their work.

(Ashby, 2017)

Ashby argued that, potentially, 30% of all workers in an organisation are a risk to Health and Safety, compliance to regulations and, ultimately, the reputation of a company. So how can this be addressed?

Many answers can be found in the field of Higher Education. Similar to the 30 and 50% of workers, JISC identify that;

“Learners themselves, particularly when beginning higher education, often have little idea of how they are performing in comparison with others, have gaps in prerequisite knowledge, and lack key study skills” (JISC, 2017)

This shows that Universities, too, have an issue with misplaced confidence and immediate training/learning needs. JISC also identify that;

“Adaptive learning systems are emerging to help students develop skills and knowledge in a more personalised way.” (JISC, 2017)

Adaptive learning systems could prove very useful for businesses. Learning needs could be ascertained during induction, this could then be used to register employees on an individual learning track that addresses any learning needs they may have.

Ashby (2017) encourages this, he identified that learning gaps need to be assessed and employees guided on how to access learning that addresses the gaps in their knowledge. Regular assessment can help to support the 50% of people who have a training need and increase the safety and compliance of the 30%, thereby reducing the risks to the company as a whole.

It appears that, in the world of analytics, Universities and Business could learn much from each other.


Ashby, O.; 2017; “Targeting Training to Tackle Unconcious Incompetence”; Learning Technologies 2017, Available at

Jisc, (2016). Learning Analytics in Higher Education – A review of UK and international practice. [online] Bristol: Jisc. Available at: [Accessed 02 April 2017].

Theory into Practice

There’s a big dilemma in Learning and Development within business and that is, how do we ensure that our learners do what they have learnt?

Working within eLearning it seems that compliance is the main driver. Demonstrable outcomes are secondary to ensuring that staff have looked at a training package and passed a test or assessment to show that they are competent. But how do we ensure that our staff apply their learning in a meaningful and useful way?

Before I examine the solution, I will first define the problem.

Certainly within our learning structure (with some exceptions) learning events are seen as one-offs, within eLearning, for example, we release training, expect the staff to take it once and then apply the principles independently.

The issue with this model is that people forget, Will Thalheimer (2006) provides an example of what happens after training has finished.


As can be seen, once training finishes staff generally begin to forget what they have learnt. Thalheimer identifies that learning takes place very quickly, but then again, so does forgetting. This can provide real barriers to applying things that have been learnt, particularly if they have been forgotten.

So how can we address the forgetting curve?

Thalheimer identifies spacing learning events out in order to ensure that learners have their memory jogged at certain intervals to help them remember.

Julie Dirksen (2016) identifies that incorporating spaced learning with practice can allow learners to develop new practical skills. She argues that learning tends to be very information led.

“Most learning experiences are structured around lots of new information” (Dirksen, 2016)

She then puts forward an idea as outlined below;

“… allow the learner to acclimate and assimilate the information before moving to the next level” (Dirksen, 2016)

This approach is also echoed by others, Stella Collins refers to psychologist Herman Ebbinghaus when she states;

“When you read you forget 80 per cent of what you’ve learned 24 hours later. When you learn without meaning and without repeating the memories later you are very likely to forget most of what you learned.” (Collins, 2016)

The idea of repetition and spaced repetition is a common theme with all of these writers. So how can this be applied to help staff to apply what they have learnt to their day-to-day practice?

The answer seems to be in structured learning experiences that are incorporated into the working environment. Towards Maturity identified that, of companies identified as being within the “Top Deck” (i.e. identified as providing some of the best L and D provision in the country) 85% of them “.. agree that their approach is shaped by models that support learning directly in the flow of work.”(Towards Maturity, 2016).

In reference to the earlier posts I have made, I believe that the 70:20:10 model, integrated with Electronic Performance Support Systems and solid mentoring should allow learners to apply their theory to practice. We need to ensure that staff have access to on-demand learning that supports their working practice. I have found this area of L and D fascinating and am looking forward to researching further into this practice.


Collins, S; (2016); “Neuroscience for Learning and Development”; Kogan Page

Dirksen, J; (2016); “Design for How People Learn”; Second Edition; New Riders

Thalheimer, W; (2006); “Spacing Learning Over Time”; Retrieved March 24th, 2017, from

Towards Maturity; (2016);  “Unlocking Potential, releasing the potential of the business and its people through learning”; 2016-17 Learning Benchmark Report.


Further reflection this week, particularly pertaining to business-aligned learning. There is a great model for learning used worldwide by many businesses. It is known as the 70:20:10 model.

It states that;

  • 70% of learning is experiential, on-the-job learning.
  • 20% of learning is social and on-demand.
  • 10% of learning is formal and delivered through structured, taught sessions.

Interestingly this model is rather old (it was identified in the 1980’s) but, according to;

“One frequent observation is that while the model’s specific ratios do not reflect current learning opportunities, it remains generally consistent with the developmental experiences of many individuals. Thus, the model continues to serve as a valuable guideline on how to employ various developmental experiences.” (, 2017)

So how can 70:20:10 be enhanced for blended and online programmes?

Possible through clever application of technology to address the 20% and 10% with applications to provide evidence of the 70%.

Social learning (20%) can be extremely useful for learners. In fact Mcabe and Gonzalez-Flores state;

“Student-to-student interaction is one of the greatest advantages of online learning.” (2017)

For remote students social learning can really help to encourage reading and further enhance their understanding through communication with peers and tutors. This is highly evidenced through the course that I am currently studying on. I have felt encouraged and supported by peers and found readings that I would never have looked at unless there was a social element to the course.

10% of learning can be done through webinars, digital lectures and other formal means. The Learning and Performance Institute offer great webinars about conducting webinars and using online classrooms. They state that just uploading slides isn’t enough. Resources should be adapted and interactive.This is to address the fact that the 1080 group identified that 92% of people multi-task during webinars (LPI, 2017).

Finally the 70%. Really I only have academic experience in this area from a technical support point of view. Registering CPD and the like can be used to evidence the 70% but I have found that applying the theory gained in the more formal 10 and 20% sections has been the mainstay of my 70% experience. In fact I would classify this blog as part of my 70% as I am reflecting and applying theory in a less formal way.

From what I can see 70:20:10 is a model that will continue to be used. There was a heavy endorsement of its continued use at this years learning technologies conference, so I guess it’s here to stay.


McCabe, M. F.; Gonzalez-Flores, P; (2017); “Essentials of Online Teaching, A Standards-Based Guide”, Routledge; (last accessed 20/03/17); “70:20:10 Model for Learning and Development”;


Defining the Model

It’s been a really interesting week reading about pedagogical models for online learning programs.

Firstly the paper by Naba Dabbagh (2005) helped to show the different models for eLearning practice. It appears that the most common model for eLearning that I am currently using can be defined as “distributed learning” which can be defined as follows;

“When telecommunications media is utilized, distributed learning refers to off-site learning environments where learners complete courses and programs at home or work by communicating with faculty and other students through e-mail, electronic forums, videoconferences, and other forms of computer-mediated communication and Internet and Web-based technologies.” (Dabbagh, 2005)

Distributed learning, for me, involves a heavy reliance on asynchronous activity. Simulations are built, distributed to learners and then completed by the learners within an agreed time frame.

Whilst the work I do fits within the distributed learning model, I do believe that there are other models out there that can better define the type of learning I create namely, the CCAF model proposed by Michael Allen (2016). This model is applied to learning packages that our learners take in order to learn on-the-job skills and is very vocationally focused.

CCAF stands for;

“Context – the framework and conditions

Challenge – a stimulus to action within the context

Action – a physical response to the challenge

Feedback – reflection of the effectiveness of the learner’s action” (Allen, 2016)

Within this model we look for “Instructional Interactivity”, Allen defines this as;

“Interaction that actively stimulates the learner’s mind to do those things that improve ability and readiness to perform effectively” (Allen, 2016)

In a number of ways this addresses the need for “Authentic” learning activities that Dabbagh discuses that are defined as follows;

“Authentic activities have real-world relevance” (Oliver et al, 2006)

Authentic learning is vital in the CCAF model of eLearning. Allen encourages a realistic context and challenge. He suggests giving the learner access to the tools they will need to perform the action to meet the challenge. Feedback then displays the consequences of failure or success in the situation.

In conclusion I believe that I use a number of models that can be summarised as below;

Distributed authentic learning experiences that provide realistic contexts and challenges for encouraging learner action whilst providing performance feedback.

Maybe that should be my new sales pitch!


Allen, M, (2016) “Michal Allen’s guide to e-Learning, Second Edition, Wiley

Dabbagh, N. (2005). “Pedagogical models for E-Learning: A theory-based design framework.”, International Journal of Technology in Teaching and Learning, 1(1), 25-44.

Oliver, R., Herrington, J., Thomas, R., (2006) “Chapter 36: Creating authentic learning environments through blended learning approaches” from Bonk, C., Graham, C, The handbook of blended learning: global perspectives, local designs pp.502-515, San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

Learning to Learn

I made a recent post in one of the course forums for the BOE course at Edinburgh Napier University. In it I mentioned the idea of teaching learners how to learn. It may sound like a simple idea but many courses do not consider the simple study skills that may be required to study at a higher level. I’ve often sat at my computer and wondered how I should be structuring my work and whether I’ve referenced correctly, used the correct tone, been critical enough … the list goes on.

I believe that if we are to truly support and motivate online and blended learners then we need to show them how to study.

Geoff Petty writes about study skills in the following way;

“These skills are not content, and so often don’t find their way on to the Scheme of Work. Yet they need teaching and they need class time! They are more difficult to learn than the content usually. So don’t just teach the easy bits (content), and leave the hard stuff (skills) for the students to work out for themselves!” (Petty, 2017)

Whilst he is writing about school and college-level learners do we not think that university and post-graduate learners require the same support?

Liverpool University have excellent practice in this area. Each online CPD learner is given access to a series of lectures demonstrating the skills needed to succeed at Masters level. This simple level of support allowed learners to easily access Electronic Performance Support Systems (in the form of on-demand lectures) as they studied.

This idea of learning how to learn is also supported by Stella Collins.

Collins argues that;

“Sharing what works with your learners helps them to be more effective and to learn better for themselves. Explaining to them that they need to review what they’ve learned, that sleeping on it will help, and giving them responsibility for learning will do more for your learners than any number of wonderfully prepared slides, detailed handouts or fantastic exercises.” (Collins, 2016)

This leads to another question, who is ultimately responsible for learning, the tutor or the learner?

Based on the two readings above I believe that the Blended and Online tutor starts off as being responsible for learning but, by the midway-point in a course, learners should become more autonomous as they have the skills to learn for themselves.

My personal experience in studying at Masters level for the first time has further instilled this belief in me. After initial struggles in Module 1 I now feel like a stronger and more independent learner in approaching Module 2, I hope this continues throughout the course!


Collins, Stella; 2016; “Neuroscience for Learning and Development”; Kogan Page

Petty, Geoff; 2017; Site last accessed 05/03/2017;


Supporting Learners

Supporting learners through blended and online courses can often be a challenging prospect. Much of the time the tutor is removed from the student b a great distance. This does not mean that the tutor cannot be supportive or offer a reasonable degree of technical and educational guidance to learners. I would like to take a business-driven model and apply it to learner support.

Within business support systems and ‘Electronic Performance Support Systems’ Teri Lynn Cardona identifies that there are three ways to support workers with their performance.

  • Intrinsic support – support that is integrated into the work environment or software (buttons in an interface like ‘continue’ and ‘submit’).
  • Extrinsic support – support that is requested, but still within the working environment (think of the Microsoft ‘Paperclip’ assistant).
  • External Support – support that is external to the working environment (phoning a helpdesk, emailing for support).

(Cardona, 2004)

These three levels of support don’t just apply to a worker or manager completing a job, but can apply to a student navigating an online course.

One way of familiarising learners with the environment they are working in through both intrinsic and extrinsic means is to set an opening task for the learners. McCabe and Gonzalez-Flores offer this advice to allow learners to get used to the learning environment, in both an intrinsic and extrinsic way, by allowing time for learners to experiment with the tools available; “Gauge the students’ technical performance and help them feel comfortable and confident navigating the online environment before grades become and issue” (McCabe and Gonzalez-Flores, 2017, p.128-129). Furthermore they offer advice for external support if learners are struggling with technology; “Remember that if students have problems understanding how to work in the LMS, you can reach them through more familiar forms of communication – telephone or email.” (McCabe and Gonzalez-Flores, 2017, p. 129).

Intrinsic, extrinsic and external support are clearly defined ways in which we can support learners through what may be an initially intimidating and difficult process of learning in blended and online programmes. Given time to experiment most learners will experiment and be able to find their way through the course. Others may require a little more help through external methods.


Cordana. T. L. 2004 “Electronic Performance Support Systems (EPSSs).; last accessed 16/02/2017

McCabe. M. F. and Gonzalez-Flores. P. 2017; “Essentials of Online Teaching: A Standards-Based Guide”; Routledge