Agile learning: The new frontier in candidate assessment

This article first appeared within Recruiter on 19 April 2017 –

In today’s shifting world of candidate assessment, learning agility is one of the latest aspects to be assessed through gamification in the virtual world.

Frontiers are where the known ends and the unknown begins. The arrival of games – dynamic, interactive, multi-dimensional – in the assessment market is opening up a huge field, which designers of tests and their customers are only just beginning to explore. One of the first features of this new landscape to be mapped, however, is learning agility.

Technology cycles are shortening – even as its capabilities are expanding exponentially. In response, job roles are shifting. More importantly, the speed and breadth of that shift is becoming a topic in its own right.

From rare storms to weather pattern

It’s one thing to see your job shift from typewriter to PC; earlier generations might see one such upheaval in a career. In such a world, the focus is on mastering the new – and then settling down to carry on much like before.

But in a world where the new is in turn uprooted for something else, not once in a career but continually, the perspective shifts. Upheavals become seen not as wild but rare storms in an otherwise calm sea, to be survived by each as best they may, but as a weather pattern the ship should be routinely rigged to sail in.

With this shift in mindset percolating through industry, employers are reasonably asking: how do we select for this? And this is where the field of games comes in. By using the additional dimensions offered by a game – time, space and environment, character interaction, choice and consequence – a much richer seam of data is opened up. But what can it tell us?

Learning on the virtual job

This multi-dimensionality is already well established in another quarter: that of training simulators. Pilots train on flight simulators because it provides effective learning. A work-environment simulation likewise creates learning; players are stretched and immersed and, as they get to grips with their virtual world, they learn.

As any pilot will tell you, a session in a simulator is as demanding as the real thing. It matters not that there’s no real aircraft, or 96 passengers sitting behind you. The concentration required is absolute; the immersion total. It’s this quality, the sense of immersion, where the ‘real’ world drops away as the player works at the given task, that makes simulators so powerful and the learning that results so enduring.

The environment that creates learning can also measure it – the data is already being collected. This data – the task performance, error rates, and the choices and trade-offs that a player makes – permits a picture of the player’s learning patterns to be developed.

A working example

For example, in the Ipsemet game each game-play gives the candidate a series of tasks to do which they must get done while events unfold around them. The game is set in a hotel and the role is framed as a summer job. Meanwhile, a boss, colleagues and guests add a human dimension to the day. The work unfolds in a sequence of four shifts with the essential outline of the shift repeating.

Each candidate deals with the simulation across a number of periods at work – the learning agility measure assesses whether the candidate improved their performance at completing tasks, being accurate, team-work, customer contact and managing resources as they experienced various situations and demands.

Essentially the game is a resource allocation puzzle in which the candidate has to apply organisation, planning and trade-offs to complete the game. Optimising within his or her time and resource constraints, the candidate can be seen learning as the game develops – their task performance rises and their mistake rate falls. Plotted for a cohort of applicants, this data allows us to see the spread of learning agility in a cohort and locate an individual on a percentile of their peer group.

Reaping the benefits

Just as psychometric games are at the frontier of candidate assessment, so many businesses – particularly those experiencing rapid growth – find themselves at a frontier where the known ends and the unknown needs new tools to measure. The additional capability that these new technologies bring can offer exactly the needed insights to enable them to build teams for a changeable future.

Selecting candidates who have a fundamental ability to adapt and learn rapidly is likely to be essential to any business that finds itself repeatedly on the frontier – be that technical, commercial or social. For organisations facing that reality, new thinking and new technologies have become the weather pattern. Those who have hired for learning agility will be the ones better equipped to weather the storms.

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