Why applied learning activities and evidence-based assessments?

New graduates rarely encounter a performance review that focuses on their ability to answer multiple choice, true/false, and fill in the blank questions. Rather, skills such as problem-solving and decision-making are desired and evaluated.

Many course syllabi however are just the opposite of criteria for a performance review. They often explain exactly how many of these fact-based questions a student must remember and answer correctly to pass the class. Unfortunately, passing a class using this criterion alone does not adequately prepare learners to address real-world problems because remembering the facts is essential, but not sufficient. What is required is the ability to analyze a scenario and create a coherent evidence-based assessment, and often to recommend an intervention.

Evidence-based assessments communicate a representation of "what" learners or experts think, along with the evidence for those thoughts. A detailed explanation of an assessment can be found at An assessment of a foal in action. In this assessment, which is included as one of the Example activities in the Applied Learning Platform, the physiologic changes that occur in a foal after being chased around a paddock are described. The case history and laboratory data are presented to a learner who identifies and records relevant observations, and then integrates those observations into a coherent explanation of the physiological events that are asserted to be their cause. These types of evidence-based assessments also serve as evidence of learning not only to learners and instructors, but to stakeholders as well.

Assessments can be used in any domain to represent understanding of any scenario at any level of detail. For example, one of the concepts in the previously mentioned assessment of a foal is the fact that epinephrine is released and it causes the spleen to contract. If this scenario was used in a Cell Biology class, an entire assessment could be devoted to the cascade of biochemical interactions that begin with the release of epinephrine and end with the contraction of the spleen.