Assessment-driven Training

An advantage in Outcomes-based Education and Training but hardly understood…

The Outcomes-based (OB) approach in learning were implemented in South Africa’s schools and learning institutions, but endured much criticism – especially from those who did not grasp the advantages. Let’s not throw away the baby with the bath water…

Many benefits in the OB assessment approach

The assessment-driven approach in OB was thoroughly researched and proven to focus learners on the outcomes that are directly related to workplace skills. However, most assessment design and developers still do not grasp the difference between content-based and outcomes-based learning and the advantages embedded in the assessment-driven approach. When they need to design and develop assessment guides and instruments they reach out to the book and not the outcomes.

Does assessment-driven mean we don’t start with the book?

Exactly just that. You start with the assessment criteria in the unit standard. In fact, when you design and develop the whole programme, you are not even supposed to have a book until you have developed your draft assessment guide and instruments. Only after the assessment instruments are drawn up, the outline of the book should be drafted.

But what is wrong with starting with the content or the book?

Developers who start with the book rather than the assessment criteria usually end up having question papers with irrelevant questions. Their preferred method is to look for steps, formulas, procedures, definitions and difficult terminologies within the book. These will then be channelled into matching column, multiple choice, alternative choice and insert-type questions. When doing this, most developers do not take in account the weight of different outcomes, and assessment instruments are developed that’s invalid, unfair to the learners and unreliable. The context of the specific organisation is also not taken into account, which lower standards due to the generic approach that is being used.

What about subjective type of questions?

Most developers do not want to add open questions for different reasons. Firstly you need open-minded assessors to mark open-ended questions…seemingly hard to find. Secondly, it takes more time assessing them and thirdly not all providers trust their assessors to apply their minds. The truth however is that most learners like open-ended questions as many like to express themselves rather than being restricted. Are we fair to our learners by providing assessments that are accommodating their individual needs?

What about the memorandum?

The outcomes and assessment criteria direct and assist in the formulation of the learning outcomes. The learning outcomes should be stated and developed in the book. Audience and context is crucial in the selection and research of the content, which should only answer to the learning outcomes. The memorandum and the book are now developed concurrently as both documents should answer to the learning outcomes. Although the book is used as guide in drawing up the memorandum, open ended questions should acknowledge learning acquired outside the boundaries of the book. That will also simplify assessment in recognition of prior learning (RPL) where a holistic approach rather than a delimited style is preferred.

Doesn’t the unit standard become the content?

Even the unit standard can become content if we see it as the Alpha and Omega. Remember, unit standards are compiled by Standard Generating Bodies which consisted of people…who have limitations. They recognise their own short-comings through publishing it for a time period so that the public can participate in a democratic manner. Therefore the unit standard only becomes a guide and not the only source in developing assessments. The context (obtained through analysing the internal and external environment of each specific organisation) of learning plays a much larger role when developing assessment activities.

But Higher Education still believes in books, journals, publications…content!

Maybe with a better balance between knowledge based and workplace based learning, they will understand the gap that was created through the years of content-based learning. Maybe then they will understand why our economy look like it does and why workplaces are reluctant to provide jobs for graduates.


The value of assessment-driven training is the fact that it focuses on the outcomes within the workplace context instead of generic content. It increases standards and excludes irrelevant learning. It is valid and reliable as it focuses on the purpose of the skill.

Let’s keep and feed this baby!

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