Using Confidence-based Knowledge Checks to Sustain Learning

Measuring learning immediately following a learning experience (workshops, eLearning, etc.) is standard practice — but it’s not sufficient. Too often, we perform this immediate measurement, assume that we have achieved our learning goals, and move on. But, for learning to be meaningful it must be persistent over time – it must be sustained.

To check for persistence (sustainment) of learning, the obvious solution is to have multiple knowledge checks spread out over time. But did you know that this measurement solution is also a learning solution? Decades of research have shown that repeated testing through knowledge checks strengthens the connections among neurons, leading to sustained learning retention. This even has a name in learning research: It’s called Retrieval Practice. For example, in one research study, learners either had:

  • four opportunities to study, or
  • three opportunities to study followed by a practice exam, or
  • one opportunity to study followed by three practice exams.

Here are the results of a final exam given one week later:

Clearly the group that took the most retrieval exams (the SRRR group) outperformed the groups with the most opportunity to study.

But, if you look at the learners’ confidence pre-test, you find just the opposite results: The group that studied the most thought they would outperform the groups that practiced retrieval more:

Any form of “testing” can be used as a knowledge check to promote long-term learning via retrieval practice, but only confidence-based testing combines the advantages of retrieval practice with understanding which of your company’s employees are over- under- or appropriately-confident. After a confidence-based knowledge check, all employees are placed into one of these four categories:

While all employees will benefit from any form of additional retrieval practice, confidence-based testing alone will also tell you which of your company’s employees are not in the desirable “green zone” and, importantly, flag the “dangerous” employees in the “red zone.” Confidence-based testing combines the benefits of retrieval practice with actionable, longitudinal data on confidence/knowledge (mis)alignment

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