Gagne’s event number 8: assess performance (and my rant on e-learning)

Remember I gave you some suggestions on using intermediate tests during training as a way to enhance the learning experience? This was in Gagne’s event number six, elicit performance. Learners tend to remember the questions they missed, and they pay more attention if they know they are going to be tested. 

So if you’re teaching skills, you have people practice, and if you are teaching information, or problem-solving, both cognitive domain areas, you test, and the tests are for formative development.  They help people learn.

But in event number 8, Gagne addresses a different form of test and that is to ensure that the learners know the content and can perform the skills at the end of training.  For example, management may have a formal test procedure to ensure the training “took” and that the learners “passed.”

One method I like a lot because it works, is when the learners attend training because they are expected to be certified in a specific customer relationship approach, or permitted to sell a certain type of product, such as insurance or mutual funds.  You can see the direct linkage between the efficacy of the training program and the success of the learners.

Let’s separate skill development, which is best conducted by instructor-led training (ILT), from the tremendous amount of training that takes place in many companies today that is strictly cognitive content.  In the latter, the focus is often on the company’s products, procedures, or compliance areas.  Learners memorize things, use reason, and solve problems. Quite often the most cost-effective means of delivery is e-learning.

I have a bias against e-learning.  You might say that’s because all my work is ILT. I focus a lot on skills since I teach people how to sell things and to do that you have to practice.  But my real gripe with most e-learning applications I’ve seen is that the testing is so poor because few developers can write the content well.

Here’s an example.  You are the learner and you are taking some e-training program at your company.  You read a couple of panels that explain how you are supposed to do something. The instruction says, “Mrs. Green (the customer) states that she would prefer to not to have to make a lump sum payment. Your best response to Mrs. Green is…”

Most often, a chimp can select from among the responses provided to Mrs. Green.  There will be one standout answer, something like, “Tell Mrs. Green you certainly understand, and ask her if she would like you to recommend some alternative payment schedules.”  You might select this without having read any of the previous content!

How hard is it to select this response over, “Tell Mrs. Green that if she doesn’t like to make a lump sum payment she should consider buying the service elsewhere.”  There may be another selection for you to consider along the lines of, “Apologize to Mrs. Green and explain that lump sum is the only payment option available,” when on the previous panel all the payment alternatives are shown.

Designers of e-learning are generally great technicians, and the programs are often fun to take, but I seldom see any that are so well-written that the learner has to use deep reasoning skills or have an eidetic memory for content.

Conclusion:  Buy all your training from me. I’ll make you practice til you drop!

We’ll look at our final Step, number 9, “enhance retention and transfer to the job,” on Friday.  Meanwhile…

Think Like Your Customer

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at

2 Responses to Gagne’s event number 8: assess performance (and my rant on e-learning)

  1. Sean Power says:

    Fair points although I have to say they appear to be as generational as they are apparent.

    Anyone who conducts ILT training of any kind over a certain age is of a similar technological oeuvre, I put it down to in depth techno-phobia as most e-learning is down to the quality and concentration of the content combined with the cleanliness, simplicity and measurement of an appropriate via an LMS provider, the word Firmwater springs to mind here!

  2. Rather than addressing the point of my post, which is that there is too much e-learning that is poorly written, Mr. Power suggests that people who feel as I do must just be old fogies! Mr/ Power has been pitching his services to me, so I have to say he certainly has a unique selling approach.

    My take on the matter remains the same. E-learning is a great application, other than for training skills, and for its economy in distribution, provided the content is well-developed. I’m sure that Mr. Power’s company, Firmwater, does a fine job of delivery as well.

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