How evaluation impacts adult learners

“As instructors, we need to remember what happens when adults who consider themselves competent, self reliant, and self-directing are once again in a learning situation” (Fenwick & Parsons, p. 20).

The quote above stood out to me the first and second time I read chapter one of The Art of Evaluation as I believe it captures the “guiding principle” of adult evaluation.

As part of this reflection, I reviewed my own beliefs on education, in relation to my role as a marketing instructor within BCIT’s School of Business. I believe that learners should exit my courses with the ability to master and apply the knowledge imparted and practiced. Collaborative learning is especially important within the courses I instruct as students will eventually work within a team environment if they choose to pursue a career in marketing.

I believe the instructor should guide, facilitate and essentially control the learning process but also allow for autonomy and provide opportunities for self direction through assignments and activities.

Learning in business happens in systematic steps. It starts with a good foundation of knowledge and theory and is then built upon through experience and practice. Therefore, learning should be demonstrated at the end of the course and learners should be encouraged to understand that practice and experience will only improve their skills.

Reflecting on my own experience as a learner brought up a really bad memory and negative feelings in response to what I now believe was an unfair and unjust evaluation of my skills. When I was in grade five, I was given a “D” in writing in each of the three report cards issued that year. I currently hold a BA in Professional Communication, and if there is one thing I know intrinsically, it’s that I am a strong writer. Getting this grade left me devastated, sad, and confused as I guess I already subconsciously knew that “writing” was what I was good at – and I thought was failing. Also, my parents were very disappointed in this grade and I was punished for it. I worked hard to prove myself to the teacher, and was never acknowledged. I understand that I was on the “weak” side of the power relationship, as a child learner.

My ah-ha moment in reviewing my beliefs on how evaluation impacts adults is that “adults have rather fragile egos…Protective walls go up when we feel attacks on our sense of self and our feeling of control” (Fenwick & Parsons, p. 19). This is true of me (as a child and adult) as a leaner, instructor and employee.

As such, when delivering feedback to adults we must be affirmative in our approach and acknowledge positive growth and performance within our critiques. It’s important to acknowledge what students are doing well, and deliver critical feedback in a respectful, educative and future-oriented manner.

What I have really loved about the PIDP program is how clear and direct the evaluation process is. Each assignment is accompanied by detailed assignment guidelines and marking rubrics. Going forward, each of my assignments will be accompanied by a similar rubric.

As adults, we embrace the opportunity to self-evaluate – having clear guidelines for assignments and how they are graded maximizes learning and helps the student focus and complete the assignments in the way the instructor intended. I will continue to make myself accessible to students so that they can pose questions and receive feedback on their work.

As stated in The Art of Evaluation “if you are a teacher, you were a learner.” Going forward I will be aware of what happens to adults when they are evaluated, and the many emotions that may go along with assessment. I will ensure that my formal evaluations are aligned with the course outcomes and teachings to ensure validity and reliability. I will give concrete ”educative” feedback in an affirming manner. I will mark the individual, based on the rubric. I will ensure evaluation is clear and regular and spaced appropriately throughout the semester; as opposed to having most grades attributed at the end of a course, based mainly on a term-project and final exam.

Most importantly, I will acknowledge my students as individuals and hope that they leave my courses with a feeling of accomplishment and increased self esteem.


About robincookbondy

My name is Robin Cook Bondy and I live in Ladner, BC with my husband and three sons. I am a communications and public relations professional pursuing further education in the area of adult learning.
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