Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Assimilation vs. Assessment

Why do people learn ? This may sound like a very basic question but we’re starting with some of the basics on the Learning Leaders blog so the question is fair game. There are two core reasons why people learn things:

Reason 1 – People learn because they want to…

Reason 2 – People learn because they have to…

In both cases, one factor is present in some degree – motivation. The character of the motivation involved in any learning experience though tends to influence the relative success of the endeavor. People who enjoy the learning process itself and are eager to understand and apply knowledge tend to have better assimilation rates.

So what is Knowledge Assimilation? Assimilation is the process of internalizing knowledge - this is different than short-term memorization techniques. When someone assimilates knowledge they are converting external information into internal understanding and this needs to occur with some level of relevance to the learner’s vantage point in life. Knowledge Assimilation is also an analytical process of interpretation; once a learner is able to place their ‘stamp’ of interpretation on information after reflection it then becomes uniquely theirs – they own it.

What type of motivation are we dealing with when folks are motivated by Reason 2? It depends on whether we can combine elements of Reason 1 into the process – in other words can we make learning something that we’re not interested in enjoyable? The one thing that tends to characterize much of the learning associated with Reason 2 is an emphasis on assessment. Assessment is a mechanism that recognizes perhaps above all else that the learner is not terribly motivated or interested in the subject and the only way to determine if information is being absorbed is through painful introspection.

So, then we end up with two types of learning strategies:

Strategy 1 – Learning to know.

Strategy 2 – Learning to pass.

These involve very different techniques and tend to exhibit different outcomes as well. Most people recognize that it is entirely possible to pass or even excel in a topic and not know the material when you’re finished. The IT industry ran into this over the past decade or so with various certification programs that seemed to demonstrate certain types of technical knowledge based on test results that in the real world in fact did not exist.

The truth is clear to most people – Assessment does not equal Assimilation and in many cases tends to discourage it in favor of other tactics designed to “survive the test.”

Copyright 2008, Semantech Inc. http://www.semantech-inc.com

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