The Future of Testing: How to Give Modern Learners Modern Testing

Modern learners want to be tested on current content that’s customized to their job role. They want testing that truly validates their skills and allows them to pick up new ones as technology evolves. They want credentials that mean something real.

We no longer live in a society where tests consist of multiple-choice questions that can be easily memorized and regurgitated. These are no longer the days of the good test takers, those who have an instinct for memorization. Why? Because rote memorization doesn’t help learners, learning institutions, or the businesses hiring those learners. Today’s testing is much more sophisticated, and it’s designed to not only meet the demands of the modern learner, but also marketplace demands from hiring managers. And tomorrow’s testing will be even more advanced, as learner preferences, exam design, and technology continue to evolve. 

So let’s look to the future for a moment—what will testing look like? And how will it benefit all parties involved? Learner demands give us a glimpse of what’s to be.  

What Learners Want

The modern learner has different expectations and needs than previous generations. And for this group, cutting-edge content focused on the latest skills is essential. In the IT industry, it’s even more critical. Technology is moving fast, and testing has to keep pace. In Gartner’s 2018 Shifting Skills Survey, more than 7,000 employees were asked to self-assess their level of proficiency in in-demand skills. Eighty percent said they lack the skills they need both for their current role and their future career. Enter the need for speed. That’s why it’s so important that test questions are designed and redesigned as new technology is developed. And it’s also why futuristic questions, on emerging technologies in particular, are a key aspect of modern testing. 

Learners also want customization and convenience—they want learning and testing on their time, in their preferred way, on the topics that are most relevant to them. Don’t put them through a week-long exam. Ask them harder and fewer questions that really validate their skills. Don’t ask them to learn things that aren’t relevant to their job role and interests, because it’s not what they want. Learners demand specificity in testing and credentialing—in fact, 72 percent of IT professionals prefer certifications that are specific to their role, according to credentialing expert Pearson Vue. So tailor learning and exams to their job role—what they should be prepared to know and do every day. Let the learners have a say in their own journey, where they are and where they want to go. And for goodness sake, don’t make it a taxing process. Give them a blueprint to get there. Give them a way to keep skills fresh on a continuing basis—when a new technology or application is developed, give them the opportunity to learn and validate that skill directly. 

Most importantly, learners and test takers want their certifications to mean something. They’re not looking for something that looks good on paper but doesn’t have merit. And they certainly won’t take a test that can be passed by cheating. Instead, they want exams that are secured, rigorous, and challenging, to be validated and recognized as credible experts in their fields. They want their credentials to get them not only in the door, but up the ladder. According to a recent survey from Cisco, 64 percent of learners are motivated to get a credential to advance their careers. And when tests are challenging, it’s not only good for test takers, it’s good for the businesses hiring them. 

Tomorrow’s Testing: Big Benefits

Tomorrow’s testing will be simplified and streamlined—instead of asking multiple questions on the same topic, fewer questions will pose more cognitively challenging questions. And instead of answering several multiple-choice questions on a single topic, test takers will be asked to design an entire system. This scenario benefits all parties involved. Learners show what they know in less time. Businesses can validate that existing or potential employees have an intricate understanding of technology. And companies that certify can properly vet and validate skills. It’s a win-win for everyone.

That’s not all, though. Tests of tomorrow also will be more modular—customized and specific to the individual skills and technologies that learners need to know. It helps learners keep up with rapidly changing technology by giving them a quick way to pick up new skills. And it helps them customize their learning and skills to their job role. No longer will learners need to understand it all; instead, they’ll have a way to selectively learn only the pieces that apply to them. Want to show you’re a master of Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI)? You’ve got it. Tomorrow’s tests will help learners keep up with technology, so that businesses know they can count on their certified staff. And modular segments will be designed and redesigned on an ongoing basis, so that content stays current. Since learning is no longer a point-in-time occurrence, future, modular testing will offer continuous learning and validation opportunities, so learners can keep skills fresh. It’s the best way for the modern learner to keep up-to-speed with need-to-know information. And it also helps businesses operate efficiently. 

The Future of Testing Is Now

The future of testing looks very different than testing of today, and preferences of the modern learner provide a glimpse of what the future could hold. Modern learners want to be tested on current content that’s customized to their job role. They want testing that truly validates their skills and allows them to pick up new ones as technology evolves. They want credentials that mean something real. And that’s why testing has to evolve—to become more streamlined, more challenging, and more modular. It’s not just good for learners—it’s good for businesses. So say goodbye to the era of multiple-choice questions that can be easily memorized and regurgitated. Enter the future of testing. 

Over the last 30 years, Chris Jacobs has continually reinvented herself in the technology industry. She started her career in teaching, transitioned to human resources and operations, and now serves as Cisco’s director of Worldwide Certifications and Lab Delivery. In this role, she leads Cisco’s certifications business, which supports a 3-million-strong Cisco certified network worldwide. Throughout her career, Jacobs has been passionate about the power of learning and the impact it can make on individuals’ lives. That’s what led her to Cisco’s certification program. Today, she serves as an advisor on technology, certifications, the future of testing and more.

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