Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Where would you be if your true knowledge and skills were easy to share?

It strikes me that it's easier than ever to setup a site or system that's effectively the social site for assessment and getting jobs. The premise being individuals have knowledge and skills and they want to show others how good this knowledge and skills are. We normally do this through lengthy examination and assement procedures that take a long time to feedback. I'm referring to the gcse, A level, degree process which takes months for assessment and feedback and has years in between each stage.

These days it's possible to bring this all down to weeks in terms of assessment and feedback. it's also much much easier to retake these assessments. Ultimately taking the pressure off the initial assessments.

So it could be speeded up. But currently we don't renew our qualifications or update them. The degree or A level you got years ago could be seen as irrelevant 10 years later. Particularly if you're in a fast moving field like programming or sports science. Oh, I'm in both, employed in one and interested in the other too.

If the process is much easier it becomes possible to take tests more regularly to provide a picture of how your knowledge and skills are growing. also with so many social sites springing up and gaining popularity it only seems natural to provide a simple place to share this information.

Most everyone wants to have a place where they can easily make their qualifications available to those who they are interested in working with. Whether it's employee to applicant, contractor to business, student to teaching institution. Both sides could do things faster if the info was available when required and easily accessible like on the web.

Whether all the info is stored on one site or aggregated through many providers and mashed together is irrelevant. Each institution that carries out online assessment and feedback could provide mechanisms to share this info with others who request it. The key point being security and privacy issues being dealt with properly.

the big quesiton I feel then is where would you be in terms of your career and your life if this were in place. You'd probably be further along. You'd probably be better informed about your true strengths and weaknesses. You'd also have had more input into the qualifications you put out there and people see you through. so you're more likely to be working in an organisation that fits your skill set.

For organisation you'd be more likely to hire those who fit your needs. You'd be much better able to match the people you employ to the organisation you run.

Both sides would also be better placed to adapt their situtation to changing climates, wants and needs. With faster and cheaper testing and feedback individuals can take the tests that are relevant now and organisations can look for individuals with these skills. All the while building a much rich pool of qualifications from which to draw. The individual no longer has to sift through all their skills and qualifications and guss what the organisation wants. Simlarly the organisation can easily search for the qualifications they need they don't have to rely on the applicant providing them.

It strikes me at the moment, as I've mentioned elsewhere, that with the rise of the internet and everything related to it I feel we're in the dawn of a new age. Ok, new ages are kind of a regular occurence given the pace of change but I do think that the internet provides connectivity between all humans the likes of which we've never seen before. It just provides real time interaction and knowledge sharing that make so many things possible and relatively easy.

So I think many existing markets and entrenched institutions will change dramatically as a result because it'll become much easier to replicate existing processes or even re-implement them in different ways.

A case in point being education and how we assess the learning achieved. For so long we've had a state funded approach with standardised certifications usually conducted through exams and course work and administered by schools, colleges and universities. Exam bodies provide the assessment while schools provide the learning. That's how it's been done. The purpose, I often hear about, for the learning is to prepare people for the jobs, careers and life they will have in future. At some point education wasn't just about skills for jobs but I feel it's swung back to being just so. The concept being the longer you've stayed in education the higher the qualification you obtain. These qualifications are your passport to a career you want.

Because this is a relatively standardised process that is generally well understood by employers it is important to have good qualifications to get where you want to be. That's true to a certain point. But I feel cracks start to appear very quickly in the assumption that this is the way things should always be done.

What if you could sign up to a site that is a one stop shop for assessment. One where you could take a bunch of tests that employers respected. You could take the tests that you wanted to do and effectively put together a cv. Then when you found a position you wanted to apply for you contacted the employer. As part of your application you are able to share your test scores with the employer much like we're able to share things these days through sites like facebook and flickr. You're also asked to take an extra set of tests related to the role you're applying for. You take these tests and also share the results.

The advantage you have is that you can take tests whenever you want. It just depends on how much you can afford and whether there is a test you're interested in.  You can then easily build up a profile of scores which reflect your abilities across a range of skills and disciplines. You can keep updating your scores whenever. You don't have to wait until specific points in time like every few years to get a new updated set. That's how things work now in the UK with gcse's, A level and Degrees etc. The problem is that it's relatively easy to underperform at any particular exam but getting a retry is exceptionally difficult involving a whole lot more studying and effort. Yet there's no real justification for this. Testing has been around for millenia. So have many of the disciplines being tested.

I feel enough solutions are now out there that tests could be retaken much sooner. In fact when I think about it if you were paying for the test yourself then that implies a business model is in place. Business models exist or could be tweaked to support even the most difficult retesting such as essay marking. It just requires some one who has the vision and a bit of effort but in this day and age I'm certain it is possible.

All of us I feel could improve some of our exam results had we been allowed to retake them at some point. I know plenty of people who lost a relative, had their parents divorcing, split up with a girlfriend or something else pretty major around the time of their exams. We all have things going on and we're human. So what I'm saying is the rigid and unforgiving nature of this assessment system makes it ripe for change. think of it another way. Given the chance would you like to fix those few qualifications that let you down. sure now it's probably a little late but if it were a month after getting the result, you still have the knowledge and a place at uni or a job is at stake. For just a few quid you could fix the mistake. Don't you want exam results that reflect your true skill not just what you could do on the day.

Employers can also benefit too. Qualifications become obsolete or atleast poor indicators over time. Sure some one got an A at A level but they're 28 now so that was 10 years ago. Most employers look at recent evidence. Well what if you could keep updating your test scores on team working, communication, software development, accounting, whatever's relevant.

When I was hired for TUI (a massive corporation who own the likes of thompson holidays). They paid for a few tests for all applicants. It meant they had the latest knowledge about their applicants. They could treat them all fairly because a standard score in several areas was set. Those who didn't reach it didn't get an interview. So race, gender, class etc went out the window. They only cared whether you were good enough. Sure TUI chose the testing organisation but that ensured they got the quality they want. Once I was hired I was development manager and so oversaw hiring of developers. I'd been through the testing process now I was part of it from the organisations side. I thought it was brilliant because during the interview I knew these people had been tested and reach the required level. I could then use the info and their CV and probe deeper.

So the applicants got a much fairer test. They got to show what they could do right now. They didn't have to rely on test scores from months or years ago that were out of date. We also got to focus on other areas during interview so we had a more rounded view of the individual.

So I can see the benefits that both individual and organisation would gain from this and also that it could become a wider part of our culture. If individuals could test themselves more and store their results. And if organisations could use these results or ask for other relevant tests then both gain. The main advantage is access to the most recent and relevant information.

As a software devleoper I know it's relatively simple to put this together. If you could be authorised as a certificate awarding body that would signifcantly boost your status but if you couldn't that wouldn't be a killer either.  You could still be build a market and a presence. Providing standardisation of tests would be a challenge but that's possible. it's been done before and could be done again. The main point would be speeding up the process of testing and reporting results. And bringing down the cost of both too.

I could also see that any institution that already has or is building an online based asssesment process would be well positioned to take part in this solution if it became a reality.

Update 20091214
It turns out the the OU is looking into this through the Centre for Outcomes based Education (COBE).
Specifically the Recognising Achievement Project (RAP) is looking into 'recognising learning from non-traditional routes'
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