In this article, I will introduce you to some of the concepts and applications of confidence-based learning and confidence-based assessment and offer information about where you can learn more than I can cover in a brief article.

Almost 40 years ago, I met and briefly worked with Emir Shuford, a brilliant researcher who had developed a measurement algorithm to assess the correctness of a learner’s knowledge and confidence in that knowledge. This was a key part of the development of what has become known as confidence-based learning, based on 70+ years of research by a small number of experts working in universities and think tanks, and for the US Navy.

Dr. Shuford was working on developing computer-based methods to support confidence-based assessments, but at the time authoring tools really were not up to the task (and frankly, neither were my skills). Today's authoring tools have come a long way. By the time Dr. Shuford passed away in 2011, he was able to see the day when his ideas and those of the other researchers could be implemented in technology-supported learning.

Confidence-based learning and assessment to date are finding their outstanding uses in medical education and in sales training. However, the range of applications is wider than medicine and sales. Basically they should be considered for any training and development where mastery is a non-negotiable outcome, where retention of learning is important, and where failure to master and apply learning could have disastrous consequences, including loss of life.

Confidence-based learning and assessments

Confidence-based learning is derived from the Socratic Method, one of the most effective methodologies for ensuring that learning takes place. It is a performance improvement process, but applied to learning.

Confidence-based learning not only promotes confidence and helps learners avoid relying on guesswork, but it also:

  • Helps identify areas of improvement in learners
  • Stimulates understanding and fills in knowledge gaps
  • Encourages reflective thinking so learners know where they are in their learning and how they can improve their learning

The confidence-based learning process is iterative, beginning with diagnosing the true knowledge of learners (what they actually know instead of what they think they know), proceeding to prescribing an individual learning plan to lead the learner to mastery, and finally filling in the knowledge gaps.

The sequence repeats until all the knowledge gaps are closed. It is possible to add spaced learning and gamification to further drive confidence and retention in support of mastery.

Confidence-based assessment tells you whether your assessments are working to demonstrate actual learning, and not clever guessing by learners. Measuring confidence and knowledge is a better predictor of performance than measuring knowledge alone, which was the understanding that drove Dr. Shuford and the other researchers.

Want more?

The Learning Guild’s Measurement and Evaluation Online Conference September 30 to October 1, 2020 includes Session 601: “Confidence Based Assessments: When Guessing Could Kill Someone.” The presenters are Cindy Plunkett, a project manager of eLearning and educational technologies at Baycrest Health Sciences and the Canadian Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation, and Sarah Dewar, Educational Technology Specialist at Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto.

They developed a confidence-based assessment tool for family physicians enrolled in an immersive 12-week program in a busy emergency department in downtown Toronto. The tool helped the physicians to identify where and how often they might be unconsciously and even over-confidently applying incorrect knowledge and practice. A simple visual metric at the end of each assessment clearly showed the physicians just how often their confident answers were in fact wrong. The confidence-based assessments were pivotal to helping the physicians overcome long-held biases and beliefs, which ultimately helped them to improve practice, identify competency "danger zones", and increase their overall self-efficacy.

Learn how they put this tool together and explore how you can use the concept to increase retention and to minimize the effects on your assessments of guessing.

The Measurement & Evaluation Online Conference will explore ideas, tools, and techniques for properly calculating, analyzing, and proving the effectiveness of your L&D efforts. You’ll attend eight sessions featuring industry leaders as they share practical approaches for evaluating and communicating the status of your learning solutions.

Register now for this online conference and learn new strategies for enhancing your L&D projects! If you are interested in attending this online event but are unable to attend on either September 30 or October 1, register anyway and you’ll receive access to the recorded sessions and handouts after the event.

You can also get a Learning Guild Online Conference Subscription to access this and all online conferences for the next year, plus much more.