Anyone who has ever taught a class or managed training knows one thing: not all learners are stars in class. Some do well in training modules while others struggle. Some people test well and others don’t.
It’s easy to think that this is just the way learning is, but did you know that back in the ‘80s, a professor nearly solved the problem of how to make sure most learners did as well in class as the top 20 percent? He found that a combination of mastery learning and one-on-one tutoring raised learners’ performance significantly.
The findings were known as Bloom’s 2 Sigma Problem because that professor had improved student performance by a factor of two standard deviations, or 2 sigma. The problem? The solution wasn’t possible on a large scale at the time.
Now, however, technology may have provided the means to solve Bloom’s dilemma.
Bloom’s 2 Sigma Problem
Back in the early ‘80s, educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom and his graduate students discovered a formula for student success. Bloom reported that student performance could be improved drastically by combining a mastery learning approach and one-on-one tutoring.
Mastery learning means that learners must master one learning objective before being permitted to move on to the next. In Bloom’s case, students were taught using lectures, tests, feedback, and additional practice to ensure that all students had mastered the learning objectives.
Bloom found that if students were then tutored one-on-one, their performances improved dramatically — 90 percent of the tutored students in Bloom’s study scored at levels achieved by the highest 20 percent of his regularly taught control class.
That was Bloom’s discovery. The problem part was that he couldn’t reproduce his findings on a large scale.
At the time, it simply wasn’t possible to provide one-on-one coaching for every student. Bloom himself concluded that it was “too costly for most societies to bear on a large scale.” Bloom and his students looked into several alternatives — group tutoring, study groups, and home instruction — but none of those came close to producing the result of one-on-one tutoring.
Bloom couldn’t find an answer to the problem himself and he asked other researchers to find a more practical and realistic way to scale one-on-one instruction. But there wasn’t a way, until recently, when technology started to make mastery learning and one-on-one coaching possible for large numbers of learners.
Enter video assessments and the self-paced course
Mastery learning has been an important part of asynchronous online training for years.
You see it in self-paced learning all the time. It’s the course that won’t let you proceed to the next module until you’ve correctly answered all the questions on the previous assessment, for example, or the learning module you have to finish successfully before you can achieve a badge.
While self-paced, asynchronous learning has been around for a long time in online training, one-on-one coaching has been fairly rare in e-learning. Now, however, video assessments are changing that.
Video assessments can be added to a course if a training manager wants to actually see learners’ progress in a course.
Take the example of salespeople who, as part of a course, must perfect a pitch for a new product. If that rep’s manager adds a video assessment to the course, the salespeople will have to upload a video of themselves giving the pitch.
The manager, reviewing the videos, will be able to see where the learners are doing well, where they're struggling, and how well they're applying the information they’ve learned in the previous modules. The manager can then leave feedback for the learners — this might come in the form of comments or a suggestion that the learner review a previous module — that can help the salespeople improve their pitches.
Used correctly, this sort of assessment offers the sort of practice and one-on-one coaching that will help all learners do their best, and retain the information they’ve learned in the self-paced parts of the course.
The power of human connection in training
E-learning — especially workforce training — is often thought of as a distant, individualized activity. Learners log into an LMS or take courses on their phones, completing quizzes or watching videos whenever they need to learn.
It can be easy to forget that there’s a human being on the other side of that learning, watching their progress. But that human connection is important. Bloom relied on it to boost student achievement in his study. Video assessments and other human contact can be used in workforce training to help your learners achieve the best possible learning outcomes, strengthen relationships with managers, and develop a culture of continuous learning at work.