Professional associations at the forefront of digital assessment
“The rise of the machines – from robotics to machine learning, big data to the internet of things – is happening." So goes the introduction to the technology section of the website for global accountancy association ACCA. Technology continues to evolve at an astounding pace, moving us ever closer to a new leap forward in professional practices and procedures comparable to the 90’s metamorphosis brought about by dial-up, productivity software, and email.
While it may feel as though we’ve been teetering on the edge of this new industrial revolution for some time, COVID-19 has certainly accelerated many of these technologies, particularly in the education and lifelong learning sectors. Lockdown has served as a catalyst for providers of education, accreditation and professional development to explore how e-learning and e-assessment technology can help them to ensure continuous provision without loss of quality and integrity.
For many professional bodies, the question of whether, when and how to modernise was already a pressing concern long before COVID darkened our shores. As professions evolve along with technology, so do their practitioners. Professional organisations are facing a changing demographic – both within their existing membership of experienced professionals who have become digital experts through continuous learning on and off the job, and in their potential pool of new recruits –digital natives with different behaviours and attitudes to the preceding generation. Further compounded by the proliferation of free or low-cost learning content online, it is incumbent on professional bodies to look afresh at their offering of education and training and make sure that it is fit for purpose at the beginning of the third decade of the 21st century.
The threat to professional bodies of losing relevance with their membership is both financial and ideological. Since most professional organisations exist to further their professions in the interests of the communities they serve, any decline in their capacity to offer high-quality, easy-to-access, member-centric education and CPD impedes the overall achievement of their mission, while the concomitant drop-off in revenue (education and training account for an average 70% of professional associations’ revenue according to the 2018 PARN financial benchmarking survey) puts at risk their sustainability.
At RM Results, we’ve worked with several large organisations in the chartered accountancy sector over recent years – including The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), the Institute of Chartered Accountants of England and Wales (ICAEW), the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Pakistan (ICAP) to help them drive the modernisation of their assessment. While the requirements and timelines are unique to each association’s examination structure and circumstances, what is common to all is the desire to respond to the needs and views of their membership in the modern world.
For two professional associations, the demand from members was for a system of assessment that mirrored their daily professional reality, with most of their day-to-day work done on a computer. Both organisations now offer computer-based exams (CBE) in their chartered accountancy qualifications.
For other professional associations, a major driver to digital assessment is the need to create a more effective and efficient system that allows members to take exams at more frequent intervals.
RM was able to help ACCA speed up their marking process, while maintaining security and quality assurance, thereby reducing the assessment cycle and enabling additional examination sessions to be added into the year.
“The use of RM Assessor within our assessment model has allowed us to modernise our internal processes and meet the needs of our students and employers across the globe,” Sarah Corcoran, Director of e-transformation for ACCA explained in our case study.
Similarly, to help meet their goal of reducing the overall assessment cycle, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Nigeria (ICAN) implemented on-screen marking with RM Assessor as the first step in their journey to full end-to-end digital assessment.
Dr Innocent Okwuosa, Chairman of ICAN reported: “The partnership with RM Results has helped us revolutionise the way we mark our examinations, further cementing the integrity and transparency of our marking process.”
With new and emerging technologies continuing to change the face of many professions, new courses or course content will be needed to bolster knowledge, understanding and skills around these technologies and their potential to disrupt and transform professional practice. ACCA has introduced a Certificate in Digital Innovation of Finance, looking at areas such as blockchain, artificial intelligence and machine learning. This provides yet another driver to embrace e-assessment and e-marking: the assessment of digital skills needs a digital solution.
Yet, while there are many good reasons to implement e-assessment within the professional qualifications sector, large-scale change requires a considered and careful approach; the security, rigour and integrity of your qualifications is paramount. Technology must act as an enabler to deliver high quality assessments and e-assessment no longer means being restricted to simple or closed question item types such as multiple choice. A variety of rich media can be used in creating and delivering exceptional computer-based assessments.
To find out more about how we are working with professional associations and other awarding organisations to help them transition to digital assessment including e-marking, take a look at our case studies.