Sunday, February 06, 2011

We can make assessments "fun"...should we?

Remember when tests were fun?

Neither do I. Tests and assessments have a long history of being about as popular as the dentist. Starting in grade school many come to dread them as lifeless--and often inaccurate--judges of worth. (Of course doing well on them that tends to improve your view)

Tests don't have to be boring. We write structured interview questions and multiple-choice questions because that's what we've always done. And we know how to do it right.

But there are plenty of ways of making them more interesting, from the way they're written (try: "You are in a maze of twisty passages, all alike"), to their presentation (e.g., animation, video), to the way people progress (e.g., adaptive testing), to the way results are given to you ("You've got the high score!"). Today more than ever before we have the flexibility to take those dry, monochromatic presentations and turn them into something eye-catching and even...dare I

(10 bonus points to those of you who caught the Adventure reference in the preceding paragraph)

The question is: Should we?

There's been quite a bit written lately about the "gamification" of assessments. Heck, I've been on that bandwagon for years. America's Army, first published in 2002 as the U.S. Army's foray into first-person shooters, was an early example of the potential marriage between staffing and entertainment--yes it's not technically a personnel assessment but the recruiting mission is obvious as is the potential use of the results. Since then we've seen a steady stream of innovation, from the use of branching video to realistic job preview-type assessments presented online.

There are several reasons why we might want to make assessments a wee bit more entertaining:

A) Because we can. Please don't use this reason.

B) As a recruiting tool to help you distinguish yourself from competitors ("Look, we're fun and cool! Join us!")

C) To encourage candidates to complete the assessment ("Yes it's a little long, but the time will fly by!")

D) As part of a realistic job preview ("Not sure if you want the job? Find out virtually!"). Nothing wrong with that. Self-selection out is good.

E) Because it helps us measure more accurately. Ah-ha. Now we're getting somewhere. To the extent that entertainment/interactivity helps us overcome candidate fatigue or other error, or otherwise helps us measure relevant KSAPs more accurately, we've won the game.

(10 bonus points to those of you who saw noticed the irony of me using a traditional multiple-choice presentation in that last part)

(50 bonus points to those of you who have noticed the use of bonus points in this post)

So we have a number of reasons we might want to make assessments more fun. But there are some reasons why we might not want to. Or at least that should make us pause:

1) Tests are serious. No, really. They have an enormous impact on people's life. We don't want to water down their nature so much that we disrespect our applicants.

2) The "tests" out there right now that are the most "fun" are also not ones you'd want to use to select people (e.g., which animal are you?), although there are some surprising hybrids (find your Star Wars twin).*

3) Those assessments that are kinda-pitched-as-actual-assessments-but-not-really-don't-hold-us-to-that, have already started blurring the line (e.g., True Colors). We want to draw a clear distinction between assessments purely for fun and "okay, you need to take this seriously, it's for a job."

4) We can easily mess this up. All it takes is a high-level manager getting into his/her head that we need to "make these test things more fun" and suddenly we're pressured into creating an expensive mess that doesn't deliver (like Daikatana).

(10 bonus points to those of you who noticed I switched response options from letters to numbers)

(50 bonus points to those of you that completed all three of the example assessments)

(100 bonus points if you know what Daikatana is)

So is there room for us to be a little more creative and investigate alternate--more immersive, interactive--ways of assessing candidate qualifications? Absolutely. But should we use caution to make sure we don't have a big-budget flop on our hands? You bet.

Now count up your points from this blog post. How did you do?

0 points: did READ this, right?

10-20 points: Okay, maybe you're tired.

20-130 points: The force is strong with you...but you are not a Jedi, yet.

More than 130 points: Call me.

* I'm an owl. Or maybe a penguin. Oh, and kinda like Darth Vader. But also Princess Leia. And Mon Mothma. Now I'm confused.


Mike said...

Good read on assessments. The fun part (in some cases) isn't the assessment, it's the analysis.

Anonymous said...

Daikatana...hmm. So you are secretly a gamer, eh? Take a look at Dragon Age Origins to see how it branches based on choices made by the player but also catches everyone up at certain intervals to bring the player to an important scenario that is needed to advance the story.

BryanB said...

Oh there's no secretly about it. I loved DA:O!

Anonymous said...

Nice post! thanks for making it fun to read :) I am actually looking for realistic ideas on how to make assessments fun for candidates.