What is assessment-based learning?

Blog / News | 14-03-22

What is assessment-based learning, and why does it work so well?

Assessment-based learning or question-based learning. A term that comes up from time to time in the world of instructional design, formal education and the corporate learning world. It’s a very different method than trainees/learners/employees may be used to, but the approach is promising. What is it? Does it work? And why? We answer these questions here.

What is it?

The name really says it all. Assessment-based learning is learning by answering questions, evaluating dilemmas, solving problems and reviewing cases. Unlike when you are given material to read or watch alone, the learning process takes place while answering the questions – and often with the feedback that follows. Learning occurs when you read or hear a question and have to dig into your memory to formulate the correct answer or when you’re given new material which you actively work on right away. This ensures a stronger and longer-lasting learning effect.

Does it work?

The success of assessment-based learning is easy to explain using the ‘Testing Effect’. In short, the Testing Effect is that people learn and remember better when they take tests and answer questions compared to when they don’t.

There have been several studies of learning performance, comparing passive learning methods (reading, watching, listening) with formative testing. Various groups of respondents were presented with different learning methods, and at the end all had to take the same summative test. The groups of respondents who performed best by far were the groups who took formative tests (kind of practice tests) during the study. They were given several formative tests after some basic lessons. One subgroup also received feedback on the questions and their answers after each test. This group performed best. This testing method thus led to significantly higher performance than the respondents who received classroom lessons or books.

Why does it work?

What makes this way of learning so effective is in a number of things. First, it is an active way of learning. Instead of just reading, listening or watching, people have to make an effort to formulate the correct answer to the question. Even if they already had some knowledge of the subject of the question, they have to retrieve it, strengthening the connections in the brain. This active form of learning works much better than just reading an article or listening to a lecture. The more effort one has to put in, the greater the transfer of information from short to long-term memory is.

Next, we have feedback. This means that after the formative test, respondents were told directly what the correct answers were and why. As the studies showed, people learn better when they receive immediate feedback because, by nature, people do not want to make mistakes and if they do, the brain wants to fix it immediately. As a result, after a wrong answer, people are more receptive to feedback and store the correct information better. This period of feedback is an effective extra learning moment when the feedback is relevant and comprehensive enough. There are several reasons why positive feedback is good for the learning effect. You can read more about these effects in the article ‘The positive effects of positive feedback‘.

What about Drillster?

The testing effect in formative tests is usually seen as an additional learning moment, for example, after x number of classroom lessons or some reading material. However, these are mostly generic tests that do not take into account what a student already masters or does not master well. At Drillster, we do things differently. We use assessment-based learning as a primary learning method for continuous learning or as a supplement before or after an existing training. Students learn by answering questions. After each answer – right or wrong – they receive immediate positive feedback. This way they learn from the question itself, and the feedback that follows. The built-in algorithm ensures that topics that the student still finds difficult are repeated more often, but in a slightly different form (learn more about question styles and question variants). In this way, no valuable time is wasted repeating material that is already well mastered, but rather time is spent on the material that someone has not yet mastered.

Next, we apply spaced repetition. The more time that passes after answering a question about a specific knowledge element, the more the forgetting curve does its work. The knowledge sinks in, and the participant has to make more effort to recall the answer to the question from memory. Fortunately, the student receives a reminder in time to come back to Drillster (read more about the Drillster way of learning). This creates an active and effective way of learning and continuous knowledge assurance.

By the way, Drillster is not 100% assessment-based. Besides the drills with sets of questions, you can also add so-called ‘stories’ to provide context. You can include useful information, videos, images, sound clips, etc. You can use stories to open a course, close it, and in between if it adds value. This way you create a fully realized course with a nice flow.

A continuous learning solution

Question based learning can be used after a training to secure knowledge, before a training to create a certain basic level, or as a training itself. You then use demand driven learning as a continuous learning solution. If necessary you can combine it with other learning methods (blended learning) to create even more learning moments. This gives you more efficient training, more effective learning, higher retention, and thus more return on your efforts and those of your participants. That should be enough reasons to incorporate it in your learning programs!