A Framework for Conducting a Skills Self-Assessment to Start the New Year

For many, one of the traditions of starting the new year involves an assessment of where we have been in the past year, and where we’re going in the coming one.  One area that often generates much interest is career-related. Many people self-assess their skills now so they can chart a plan for the coming year.

But one of the challenges of conducting such self-assessments is that most of us aren’t good at it.

To conduct these assessments, we typically usually use general, value-laden terms like “excellent,” “good,” or “average” to evaluate ourselves.  But such terms don’t describe our performance and, at their worst, conjure up images tied to our identities.  So a self-assessment of skills becomes a general evaluation of our self-worth.

Not surprisingly, many studies have shown that workers’ self-assessments of skills vary widely from their manager’s assessments.  Some workers over-estimate their skill levels; others under estimate it.

One way to move the attention back to the skills involves assessing the scope of the knowledge and performance, rather than a value judgment on its performance.  Not only does such a system focus on performance, but also provides a more honest appraisal of skills that might also provide a stronger match between the skills assessments of workers and their managers.

Such a performance-based system specifically focuses on observable and measurable means of assessing skills.   Figure 1 shows a general framework, from which you can customize assessments for particular skills.

Such a performance-based system has these specific uses in informal learning:

  • Managers can use this system to assess the extent to which workers have deepened their skills through informal learning (if at all).
  • Workers can use this system to determine the current level of their skills and the desired level of skill, and can then identify opportunities to bridge this gap.
  • Training and development professionals can use this to determine, for each major category of skills, which ones to develop through formal means and on which ones to rely on informal learning for development within the organization.

Figure 1: A General Framework for a Performance-Based Assessment of Skills

Level Description
A Can recognize the name of the skill and explain what it means.

For example, when confronted with the term authoring system, a person with a Level A skill could explain that it is software used to develop courses.

Or when confronted with the term, instructional objective, a person might explain that this identifies a skill learners should be able to perform after completing an instructional program.

B Can define the key features of the concept and explain when to use it.

For example, a person at Level B of a skill could explain the key features of authoring systems (such as answer analysis and branching) and explain that authoring systems should be used when the course developers have limited programming experience.

Or a person at Level B of a skill could name the three components of an instructional objective and the link between instructional objectives, criterion-referenced instruction, and criterion-referenced testing.

C Have used or applied the concept.

For example, a person at Level C of skill would have used one or more authoring systems to create a course.

Or a person at Level C of skill would have written instructional objectives for use with criterion-referenced programs.

D Is a power user of the concept, often assisting others with complex tasks that have been documented.

For example, a person at Level D of skill would have installed and customized an authoring system, and perhaps taught another person to use it.

Or a person at Level D of skill would have evaluated instructional objectives written by other instructional designers.

E Can address challenges with the concept that are not documented.

In other words, a person at Level E of skill with authoring systems might solve a problem that is not discussed in the troubleshooting guide.

Or a person at Level E of skill with instructional objectives might have diagnosed problems arising in a course that had instructional objectives, but ultimately failed to achieve them.


Tip: For a framework for evaluating informal learning as well as descriptions of specific techniques for doing so, see Chapter 8 of Informal Learning Basics. 



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