I'm overstating it a bit with the title of this post, because sure, you can measure knowledge acquisition by pre-testing and post-testing, or iterative assessment. I know, I know...we can measure how much someone knows because we have standardized tests! (I really hope the sarcasm is evident in text...)
I spent the last three days at the mHealth Summit
in Washington, DC and 19 hours manning the Ayogo
booth, talking to amazingly interesting people about the potential of games to improve health outcomes. What mattered to everyone? It wasn't what people know...amazingly, most everyone actually knows what they need to do to be healthier. The challenge is to get people to actually DO those healthy things that will help them better manage their diabetes, reduce their risk for cardiovascular disease, etc.
When it comes to health, but really when it comes to ANYTHING, there is a knowing-doing gap. We all know this...so then why are we as a learning profession settling for assessing knowing? Knowing is not doing. The proof is in the behavior, and behavior can be easily measured.
We live in an age where everything we do is tracked. Do you carry a cell phone? Your wireless carrier knows where you take that phone all day, every day. Do you use a credit card or bank card? All of your purchases are tracked. Do you log onto the Internet? Every site that you visit is logged and recorded (yeah...I know...you delete the history. That just means your kids won't see those sites your visiting...but your Internet service provider still knows).
All of that data, and more...everything you post on Facebook, Twitter...everything you email...anything you do is trackable now. And more ways to track behavior are being created every day...sleep monitors, pedometers, glucose monitors...there is data EVERYWHERE and its all about you. And me. And the guy sitting in traffic next to you who's using his gps.
With all of this data, we can start making predictions about future outcomes. We can target specific communities or subsets of employees, populations, learners. We can provide information to the most relevant audiences in the most appropriate places.
As learning professionals, we should be thinking more closely about the implications of that data and what it means to know so much about a person's current status and the implications for her future status. Can we change the future? Why yes...yes we can. We can observe current behaviors, predict future outcomes, and use our expertise in learning and performance improvement to change behavior to improve those future outcomes.
We have access to so much behavioral data. How do we get people to change their behavior, when we know that people operate in a world of short-term benefit over long-term reward? We're not going to change those behaviors through knowledge training...we'll only change them through behaviorally-focused training. Games, simulations, contextualized practice...immersive learning environments are the bridge between having access to data and changing behavior for better results.
We can, and already do, measure behavior in almost every aspect of our lives. Learning professionals need to stop focusing on knowledge and start focusing on behavioral change as the basis of our design practice or risk obsolescence (see: Instructional Design is Dead). Our jobs aren't about making sure people know things...they are about making sure people can do things better. We can design those experiences and measure those outcomes. If we aren't doing that, we're not doing our jobs.