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Best Training Practices
Will Kenny
3927 York Ave N
Robbinsdale, MN 55422

Playing by the Rules: #4

sometimes you have to know that they know

nutshell imageIn a Nutshell . . .

Many times, corporate training is done without any evidence of what is retained by the trainees. This regional financial services company wanted to make sure their message reached their audience, their front line employees who worked directly with customers. This was important because many of their customer interactions were highly regulated: not knowing the right answers could lead the government to put them out of business, so they had to make sure the trainees knew their stuff.

They had provided repeated training on this topic, but still encountered legal problems. Tightening the delivery of the material by adding carefully constructed tests allowed them to ensure that employees knew the best practices and required procedures before working with customers.

Case Study Summary

Business Function:

Compliance with government regulations, an internal unit of a financial services company, overseeing transactions with individual consumers. The Legal department also had a hand in this oversight.

They Said:

They felt that employee attitudes and interest in following regulations were good, but that sometimes important details were overlooked. They felt that testing the knowledge of the employees, after training, was necessary, and in fact had developed a set of questions on key topics.

My Take:

I agreed with the value of testing in this situation. I found, however, that the tests they had drafted probably wouldn't do the job. Many of the questions would not accurately measure knowledge, or might measure the wrong knowledge.


Drawing on years of professional experience in constructing objective test questions, I consulted with the compliance and legal staff to make sure we tested knowledge of 1) the right topics, with 2) truly effective test questions.


Both employees and compliance staff could be confident that trainees went to the front lines with the knowledge needed to remain in compliance with applicable regulations.

Questions, questions . . .

It can be surprisingly difficult to write truly effective objective test questions, such as multiple-choice items. Done well, however, it is possible to assess a wide range of knowledge, and get at subtle distinctions, with objective questions. Much more than simple "fact regurgitation" is possible with well-designed tests.

If you don't have experience not only constructing such tests, but analyzing the results to improve your skills, you probably write questions that contain unintended cues that lead poor students to the right answers, or mislead good students to the wrong answers. Writing effective questions that actually measure the appropriate knowledge is a slow process that requires experience and expertise.

I acquired that expertise in years of college and university teaching. In addition to my own courses, I was responsible for constructing objective tests for thousands of students in university level Psychology courses, as well as performing and interpreting a statistical "item analysis" to determine which questions were effective, and which needed to be improved. I later provided similar services in a variety of academic and business situations.

Bringing Two Worlds Together . . .

In this case, I was able to draw on my years of experience in developing business communications to develop course materials and identify the key concepts and details trainees needed to take back to their desks with them.

And I was able to draw on my academic experience to assess their knowledge of those concepts and details, assuring accuracy and thoroughness in their use, on the job, of what they had learned in the compliance seminar.

© 2007 Best Training Practices -- Will Kenny

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