Monday, May 11, 2009

Writing Quizzes That Work

I'm currently writing compliance training for a company that owns power plants. Given how much I hate it when the power goes off, ensuring the security of the electric grid is a mission I can really get behind.

The training needs to include test questions that will be tracked in an LMS.

My problem with tests

Now, tests or quizzes always seem to me the weakest part of e-learning courses. If we can design engaging presentations of information, seductive games, and brilliant simulations, why cap it all off with bland-as-toast multiple choice and true/false questions. I always feel such activities bore and annoy, even insult adult learners.

But this is compliance training so there must be test questions!

A great solution

The solution I found from a little research is simply to create questions that relate to the learner's real world experience. Scenario questions!

Don't write questions that ask learners to recall and rehash the information you just served up.

Do write
questions that ask them to apply that knowledge to real situations they are likely to face on the job.

Where I found the answer

Karl Kapp has an excellent blog post on just this topic. He points out that, in order for compliance training to change job behavior, it needs to present learners with the kinds of problems and decisions they are likely to face on the job. And then guide them how to proceed.

In E-Learning by Design ( a wonderful banquet of a book!) William Horton provides very similar advice. "Phrase your questions so that they resemble the kinds of decisions learners will have to make when applying the knowledge and skills you are teaching. Phrase questions so they re-create what would actually occur on a job." (p. 250).

Horton goes on to give this example of multiple choice questions:

No: What are the three methods of peer mediation identified by Professor Morty Cerebrum?

Yes: John, a co-worker, bursts into your office. He collapses into your guest chair and mutters, "I'm either going to quit or throw my simpering weasel of a boss out the window." How do you respond?

Notice too how much more emotionally involving the second question is. It not only presents a real-world problem, it makes you feel the problem really matters, because it's tied to a person who's very upset and needs immediate help.

That question has the power of a story, in less than 40 words.

Powerful stuff for learning!