When evidence is a god, learning is lost. The constant need to sign off a skill defined by the standards sucks the potential out of learners.

Proving competency in a skill is challenging. How many times does someone have to demonstrate a skill before you can say they have “got it”? Do you set up artificial scenarios for the learner to handle to act as evidence of the criteria? If you set it up, is it a real reflection of the situation they would experience when qualified?

Such a model of skills assessment comes with two problems. First, you cannot be sure that the learner has grasped the concept. Second, it creates a massive bureaucratical project that doesn’t serve the learner or the outcome.

Problem One: Does doing it mean learning it?

If you look at Bloom’s Taxonomy, knowing and understanding come at the bottom, followed swiftly by application. Therefore, doing the skill you have read about is learning to some degree. Therefore, the process of breaking a skill into component parts and then having the learner apply these do show more than having read a book on it.

To some degree, it does make sense to see one, do one, sign it off to build a portfolio that can be submitted for assessment.

However, the higher thinking skills in Bloom’s Taxonomy require critical thinking, creativity, evaluation – and through these higher thinking skills, you build a successful practice in that area of your profession. Demonstrating a skill once and evidencing it does not prove competency as such. It shows, at that moment, under the supervision of another, that you could follow instructions.

You are not required to know why you are doing it. You are not required to understand how this might be different in an alternative situation.

You technically haven’t learnt anything other than how to mimic your tutor or supervisor at that time.

Problem Two: Does the bureaucracy serve anyone other than the bureaucrats?

Auditing skills also leads to a mindset of thinking only about capturing evidence. Rather than focusing on learning the details of a craft or profession, the learner is focused on whether this is good evidence to prove they’ve ‘covered it.’ The act of assessment becomes the task rather than learning how to be better.

No teacher has ever felt joy at signing a sheet saying they have witnessed a skill being completed. While they may have seen the learner at work, they are uncertain whether the learning has embedded. However, because the learner relies on this act of bureaucracy to pass the course, the teacher dutifully signs once the skill is demonstrated. It is in everyone’s best interest to follow the requirements of the specification – and nowhere does it define the term ‘embedded learning’ – only ‘demonstrated’.

The auditing of skills monitors a moment in time. It falsely assumes doing it once means competency, and it is an endpoint and not an ongoing process. With the current agenda for lifelong skills, the learner would be put into a situation of ongoing proof of skill acquisition all through life. It would be yet another reason for a company to set up a qualification and make money issuing endless levelled certificates.


Skills are not the answer in the first place.

Character-based development is the answer. Those things we choose to be that help us do well in the world. Developing our character helps us show up better, be better and so do better.

So, skills are the wrong thing to assess anyway. You need to acknowledge a commitment to ongoing character-based development instead – then the learner is really getting somewhere.

You cannot audit and evidence character because it would mean setting up a standardised list of criteria for what it means to be a human being. It is the very pinnacle of farcical to say an individual can be standardised – because then, well – they wouldn’t be an individual.

You cannot even set up a normative mark scheme with grades 1 – 9 on being human – good luck to the person who wanted to compose that ‘norm’.

So, what is the solution to assessing lifelong development of character, which would lead to the ongoing acquisition of skills?

Celebrate the commitment to learning.

If a person starts at point A, undertakes behaviours research has uncovered as successful learning, comes out at Point B – and the assessor can see the fruits of this learning in evaluating the process – then give that person a certificate.

Imagine if the learner could:

  • Clearly state where they were in their understanding or development.
  • Explore how they undertook learning by exploring content, actioning ideas, reflecting and more.
  • State clearly what they had taken from this learning and the course corrections they were to make.
  • Defined the insights that came from the process.

Surely, if they did all this, they have transformed themselves. They have learned.

Ready to start a discussion?

At Entelechy, we know the value of accountability, feedback, and reward in learning. However, we want the model of assessment to complement the learning, not lead the learning. Imagine if this model allowed the facilitator to reward what is learned instead of teaching what is assessed.

How does this sound to you?