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Sylvain Rochon, March 30 2022

Darryn Van Den Berg – Digital Assessment of the Learning Process

Every week, the Spotlight shines on an amazing professional with a story to tell and lessons to teach.  Welcome to the CykoMetrix Spotlight.

The following is an adapted transcript of the exchange between Sylvain Rochon, CMO at CykoMetrix as host, and Darryn Van Den Berg, Co-Founder and Visionary MD of Passion4Performance Group ( www.p4p.co.za ). 

Sylvain Rochon: Welcome to CykoMetrix Spotlight. My name is Sylvain Rochon, the chief marketing officer at CykoMetrix, a SaaS-base assessment company that tracks people's personality, cognitive abilities and emotional intelligence over time so you can apply amazing training and do some staffing changes, and basically know what your client and what you are doing, how you are doing over time and apply proper changes for development to improve yourself, becoming a more effective team member… etc. 

 Today I have with me a fantastic entrepreneur. His name is Darryn Van Den Berg. He's the co-founder and visionary MD of Passion4Performance Group, and chief playmaker of Gamification Crafters Guild. He has been pioneering alternative learning and development solutions for over 17 years, developing solid return on investment methodologies, and disrupting the current learning landscapes. Darryn is regarded as a thought leader in assessment and recognition of prior learning and a local maverick in Gamification. Something I am extremely passionate about because as some of the viewers may know, my past businesses were making digital games, and I've been a lifelong teacher. I've been an educator for over 20 years. So, I was quite excited when Darryn accepted my invitation to talk today, specifically in this case about how to digitally assess the learning process, how people learn. I think, Darryn, especially these days, many [people] are using online learning. So, why don't you tell us about that? 

Darryn Van Den Berg: Thank you and thanks for the great introduction. Particularly in the learning space and education space, a lot of competency assessment is done via knowledge-based assistance. Typically, people would log on to some kind of e-learning platform, be put in the classroom and then given an exam. True or false, yes or no, or write an exam article, and that then gets submitted to someone for the marks and that gets moderated. And well done, you have your MBA or you have your degree or your qualification. However, if you take the concept of competence, the vital missing component of that is, can you do the job? Can you physically show me the skill of you applying the knowledge? Because knowledge is easy to assess. What we've done and where my focus is to explore ways in which a training provider or recruitment agent, or even some kind of University can increase the assessment of skill via a portfolio of evidence. 

 Now, this is not new. I mean, people have been building portfolios of evidence for years. However, we're finding it's not very well adopted and not very well understood because the education system, currently we have three-hour exams to tell us that you can weld, or you can do a strategy, or you can implement anything. Then the person gets the job, and the company managers go "Well done for your piece of paper. Put it down over there. I'm really not interested [in this]. Let me show you how to do the job." And so, what we are exploring with the technology we've built is, how do we build a second arm of assessment? So, you don't disregard that [degrees/certificates] because that's really good for knowledge. But how do you build the portfolio of evidence so that the end-user, while they are doing their job, can gather evidence that demonstrates their skills and then get their skill signed off by some subject matter expert, and that's the digitization of the skills component of the learning journey. 

Sylvain: So, it's an additional series of tests and assessment that truly assesses the person's ability to do the actual job. How has that been going so far? Because you've been in business for, I think with this company for a number of years. What have you observed in the market as far as reaction to this process? I haven't heard of anything like this before. 

Darryn: Okay. So, first of all, we don't refer to it as a test on our side because when we use the word "test" we kind of tend towards knowledge. I would kind of offer the word "observation" as a better opportunity. Every workplace that I know of has some kind of an observation checklist with a toolbox that happen on a Monday morning to tick, tick, tick, you know?  Did you reach your sales targets? Did you do that? So, if we look from that perspective of South Africa and in other countries, it is known in the UK and New Zealand, there is something called the national qualifications framework. It is a framework of nationally recognized standards. 

We have a very large uptake because one of the requirements in issuing certification qualifications in the vocational space is that the learner has to demonstrate competence, which would be knowledge and understanding, it is easy to test knowledge, but they also have to demonstrate skills and application. And then the third one is the psychometric side which is what you and I spoke about what CykoMetrix does. It's the fit to the job. When all three come together, you have a more holistic view of the employee or the learner. We've seen incredible uptake with companies who are serious about skill. To give you an example, we are working with a company and they're large. They have 42,000 employees in the South Africa and the African region. One of the problems that they have is they have many employees who don't have University or college-recognized degrees, or diplomas or certificates. 

 But they've been working at their jobs for 20 years. So, instead of going to college to study and get a job, they went "I didn't finish school. I got a job in the mailroom and I've worked my way up." And now what's happened is they've got to some kind of a supervisory or management position, but they can't be promoted because the company policy says, "You must have a degree in order to get into the interview." So, what's done is we've taken it the next level. Let's call it a "senior manager in a storeroom" just as an example. So, with our technology, we've taken that and we looked at the KPAs and KPIs or the job profile or the MBOs or whichever acronym you like. And we've converted those into a demonstrable portfolio. I'll give an example. Show us that you can do a performance review. To do that we want to see someone in the room and you following five things. 

Show us you can do a stock take. For that, we want to see a signed stock sheet or see a video of you doing the stock take. Show us you can put a report from the management system and analyze the reporting. For that, we need the following criteria. So, it's a portfolio that they bought. What that employee does is they access our technology. They see the required observation checklist, and they go ahead and build their portfolio against those requirements. What then happens is another senior manager in that position, not their direct report, somebody else, they access the portfolio, and they assess that they have gone through it. Did you do this according to the company standards? 

Did you do that according to the company standards? Did you do that? They come up with two solutions; either you're competent, well done, or you're not yet competent because this is the missing information that you didn't apply. That gets generated into a report and that gets that person into the interview.  Where the interview sheet says degree, it now says degree or recognition of prior learning or assessment that you've achieved more than 80% of the skill application. And now with the interviewer or even the hiring manager can decide if, you know, Darryn has a 20% gap in his ability to conduct the job here and here. Yes, but we love his attitude because if you look at the psychometric report and look at the way that the staff relate to him, he is such an awesome employee. We have to fill the gap and we'll put him on to a skills development plan the moment we hire him. He understands the culture. 

Or, the gap is just too large it's just something that we cannot feel comfortable to have. So that's an example of skills. I'll give you a recruitment example, but it happens in the learning space towards certificates and high certificates and high diplomas and qualifications. It's exactly the same process. It's just that people are especially training for skills.  Our end-users, actually the business, because up until now, universities' end-user is the student. They don't care what happens to the student after they leave. Well then you have a degree, get lost, we're not interested in you. Companies have too many students trying to get in and they already have a backup. They don't really care. 

But my experience is where the world is going, where the business is going, I'm tired of it. I'm tired of your students because they can't do their job. So, yes, they get your qualification but when their land in my business, I have to untrain them on everything you taught them and retrain them so they make sense for my business. Universities and private training providers are starting to awaken to the fact that their client is actually the business that they are providing a student to. Those are the guys that are going to be around for 10 years. The universities that don't see that, they don't understand the assessment of skill enough. They're going to have problems in the next 10 years. I'm not sure that answers your question, if it makes sense? 

Sylvain: Well, it does bring other comments because this is something I've seen as well. I've been in education for 20 years. Part of it was teaching at a local University. I've been an entrepreneur, which means I've been hiring students from College and University. I know a lot of other opportunities, we have conversations, we talk about these things. And just like you mentioned, it's not a question I know the answer to but it's more of a conversation and a comment. 

I agree with you because most entrepreneurs I know are more innovators, non-traditionalists, typically because we start new ideas. We're not IBM or some big company that may or may not be conservative in their way of hiring. For us, what we care about is not the degree at all. We really don't care about the paperwork. Is the person able to do the job? Is the person competent? Does he or she have experience in doing what I wanted to do? What is the person's capabilities? Is he a leader, nice to work with, and so on, the soft skills? The paperwork for somebody coming out of University doesn't demonstrate any of that. So, we look at that typically as collaboration. In Ottawa at least we have a couple of universities, well, more than two, but two major ones. One of them is very open to the idea, the other one is much more academic. 

So, it just produces diplomas and doesn't have a strong Co-op program or anything like that. The other one is very in line with businesses and listening to the business owners. And so, what we've been telling universities, because they are listening, is that, well, provide us with a portfolio of work, of experiences from the University. Some university get it. Not all of them. 

Darryn: Yes. Yeah. 

Sylvain: So, you're right. The industry is not looking at the document. So, we need some kind of body of proof, to your point, like the example of the person who wants to get into management and the requirement is you need to be able to do X thing. If the company buys into the idea and says, like you said, either you have the degree, which is fine, or show us that you are able to do the management done.  But they need to be able to see an assessment of some sort that proves that. 

Darryn: Exactly. 

Sylvain: Which could be internal, I guess, like through observation from supervisors and whatever. But your service, if I understand correctly, provides that ability to data check the results for the company. 

Darryn: Yes. A hundred percent. Now I found something quite interesting. I've spoken to a lot of business owners and a lot of major players like Fortune 500 executive managers, executive directors. I spoke to them about the degrees. I asked, “Why is the degree so important to your HR department? Why is it that even you complain about the skill? Why is it so important?” Their comment to me was it's not about the piece of paper. We want to see that somebody could have stuck it out for three years, four years, five years, and completed something over a period of time. So, it's not the paper we're interested in. We're looking for that stickability. I said, “So what if that person could show you stickability over 10 or 15 years, doesn't that count for something? Wouldn't that outweigh the other?” And they're like, "Oh absolutely." They've stuck in a company for 15 years. 

Now, again, depending on the company because if you are not in the high-tech game development company and someone's been in there for 10 years, they're out there. No offense, but they need to shift to other companies to keep their skills honed. But in most industries, surely that counts. Yes, it definitely does count. Okay, so that's why if we don't shut the interview process down, the person gets into the interview, at least they can talk to it. Now, big companies like Accenture, and some of those big players, they actually have in the HR policies and now are saying, "We will accept you into an interview without the qualification as long as you have the experience." How do you demonstrate the experience? And that's the question and that's the system we've created. 

So, when I work with your company, I don't tell you what the experience might look like. I've created the technology so I can sit with your smart people, your people who do the processes. If the person is doing the job right, if they are mining the coal, if they are answering the phone, if they are serving coffee and cake, what would you physically see them do? What would tell you that they are doing their job right? What do you look for when you do your performance reviews, and you want to get them a pay increase? Once we have that, we create a version of an assessment checklist and it got, “Is this correct?” They go, "Ah! No, that's wrong. I don't like that. This, and we got it okay." Now, what evidence would you accept, or would be acceptable to you if they demonstrated this?” 

They'll say, "Oh we were under video for that". If the person can selfie himself walking down the corridor. A lot of our clients are moving away from online exams because of the language barriers. I work with people that struggle with English as a language barrier. And if you ever try to write in a British exam, oh my God, you're trying to understand British. Good luck to you. There are so many words. The other thing, which from a behavioral perspective, you test your kid the night before exams. They ace it, they answer every question in the book. They walk into the examiner and fail because the whole environment is horrible. It's a horrible frequency environment of fear. I'm going to fail, and they can remember nothing, which is very normal to humans. 

So, as part of regrowth, if that knowledge is very important, we say to the learner "do a voice note." Here are the 10 questions. Create a voice note on your mobile phone. Tell us who you are. Start the voice note. Tell us who you are. We can do voice recognition if you want to and tell us. Question one is this. Here's my answer. Question two is that. Here's my answer. I just voice note the answers. We don't have to have a written exam and that's just prehistoric. Unless of course, you're doing editing or you're doing some kind of something that someone has to write with. That's what our technology does. We even put that into our technology, and we bring the learner or the person wanting the recognition. We bring the assessor, the person who is the subject matter expert, who can tell you whether you do it right. We bring the administrator. We bring it all together. 

Now, if you require SaaS metric assessment, it goes into your online portfolio of evidence. If you require a written exam, it goes into the same single folder. In one Dropbox folder, if you want to call it that, everything lies. The difference is the governance because Dropbox, OneDrive are not built for governance of assessment of learning.  That's what we've done. So, we check the governance. We make sure that all the legislation stuff is in place or requirements are in place. That's what we do. This is where companies are getting excited because they're going, “This is fantastic because even the results are portable.” So, when this person got all the stuff, he goes for the next job. They go, well, why should you get this job? Let me show you my portfolio. Who assisted you? Steve Jobs. Now, would you rather hire someone like Steve Jobs to assist, or that University lecturer who's been in the universities twenty years later? It is the same. Where is your priority as a business? You decide. 

But either waiting of the assessor becomes important now, and that's where our technology, that's what we're plugging. We don't do content. We're not interested in content. We're not interested in learning management systems. We're not interested in tracking if you arrive on training on time and tick the boxes. We are only interested in the portfolio that leads towards the success of the qualification or the designation or whatever is required so that that individual has a better chance of growing their career.

Sylvain: Yes, so you created a niche market and a focus on aiming on that pain point. Right? 

Darryn: Exactly. 

Sylvain: Now, I do have a question because it sounds like— and you can explain this to me— that for every college you'd need to treat them like a clien.  The client being the company. Like you said, that's your user. Your client is actually the company, not the individual trying to get a promotion or whatever. 

Darryn: At the moment. Yes. 

Sylvain: You need to do a custom assessment of the learning because it really depends on what the company is looking for: the qualification, certifications, different tasks. So, I'm assuming maybe you have templates. Over time, you develop templates and then you can reuse some of them. Do you have to do consultations first to really understand it and then customize and then deploy? Or is there a way that you can figure out where you can have a lot more automation so that more companies can use it? How does it all work on that side? 

Darryn: Okay, I understand. So, I guess the question that I would post back is, would company A be comfortable with company B's assessment criteria? Would Samsung want to use Apple's assessment criteria? If the answer is yes, easy. If there are answer is no, well then, we need to talk about it. So, let's put the two together, there's two roles. It's the role of the company and then we put them in contact with the training provider. 

So, the training provider most often has to subscribe to a high education authority or went to a vocational education authority and there are rules that are in place that every provider has to abide by. Not negotiable. So, in that case, they would be pretty much 70 percent static. It doesn't matter what you are because you subscribe to this vocational governing body, here are the rules and then they would tweak their own. Prime example, in South Africa, there's a qualification. It's a diploma. It's called generic management at level 5. So, it's pretty much a supervisory level generic management program. The assessment criteria is defined by what we would call... but you probably would kind of conceptualize as the education department. It’s the department that governs the education for South Africa and they have to find the criteria. 

But what the training providers have done is they've all interpreted the criteria differently and that combined criteria 135, into a single point, and this one's done. Their programs, although they offer plan lead organizing control, they're all offered in vastly different ways because each one of them had their own unique selling points. When they approached us we go, "Look. We've got a generic 10-man program from the government. You're welcome to use it, but it's not going to look like yours. It's going to cause you more pain in six months’ time when you have 100 learners on the program trying to explain to them why this point here doesn't look like that point there in your paperwork." So that's what becomes consultative. We've also learned that companies don't know what they don't know. 

So they go, "I know we've nailed this whole thing." ‘Really?" "Yeah, our performance reviews run every quarter." "Oh, how does it run?" "What do you mean?" "Can you explain the performance review?" "Yeah, the learner is given a ten-page paper. They have to sign it. They give it straight back to the manager who signs it." "Did they meet?" "No, no, they just sign it. They dumped it on a HR's desk on the 25th, because everything is due on the 26th, and then that gets submitted too." “Okay, so there's been no assessment then? No tracking of performance?" "Oh. Okay, so in that case, we'll just use that. Click, click, click. Done." If you actually want to see performance, well, we need to dive a bit deeper. And we find some very interesting things kind of rolling out as people. 

Our one massive client, they do oil and petrol in South Africa. When we started this, we started with the executive suite. So, it was the president and then the executive suite and they were like, "Oh, easy, easy, easy, easy." This was in week two. By week four we had it done. It took them all eight of the executives at least three months to reconceptualize. So, we met them once a week. They're busy people. But to reconceptualize the processes, they just assumed we're in place setting some way for something. It took three or four months until we nailed those down. 

And then once we nailed those down, they know the portfolio, what does the evidence. Once that happened... the first starting point was the induction program— the onboarding. You know, that onboarding one has to do, that waste of time, they even feel it’s a total waste of time. And then you get a three-month probation period that no one really cares about and everyone's afraid of because of the unions. Well, we solved that because all we did we put well done. You started working for the company. Here are nine questions you have to answer in the next 90 days because that's your probation period. Question one: Who relies on you and who do you rely on to get your work done? I want to see a video of you meeting two different people and talking. Question two: What does what you do, how does what you do impact the bottom line of the company? Because yes, you are the recruitment officer in HR. How does it impact the entire oil company? That's a billion-dollar company's bottom line. So those type of questions are within the portfolio link. 

So, what happened was, over the 90 days, the employees accessed little three-minute videos.  It brought their portfolios up and the probationary period ended with performance review of the portfolio of evidence that was created over three months that the manager signed off. And then, we are to keep you on, or we don't because now we can prove with the probation whether you fit in the probation period. Everything's way above board because you've built a portfolio, you've met the people, we've met you. There's been touch points everywhere. It was crazy. I mean, they never saw something like it. This was more like a 22 percent reduction in turnaround three months after. What happens when you hire the person for three months, six months later there's a drop-off rate. They saw a 22 percent reduction and that drop of rate because the pain in the beginning, we were bringing you into the company so much more. You didn't just start working and got lost in the system. You actually had to engage. But that took consultation time because the company was so big. 

Sylvain: And the bigger the company, the longer it takes to get anything done, decisions and committees. Yeah, I think I have a final question. As a part of your bio you talked about chief playmaker, gamification, those terms. We've talked about this, you and I, but you haven't touched on this yet. So, I want to go there. 

Darryn: Okay. 

Sylvain: Throughout this process, these assessments, how do you include concepts of gamification, and then why? So, if you could explain to the audience. 

Darryn: So, what we've experienced is if you take a typical qualification and the way that happens in South Africa is, generally, a learner will do module one and then they'll be a one-month break where they have to do the project. They submit the project and starts on module two and then one month break and then they submit the project. When they submit the project, they go into the classroom for five days of lectures. So, in studying gamification, I don't pull games. I do what gamification is actually supposed to be, which you and I agree on. It's the application of game mechanics in non-gaming environments. So now what happens is when that assessment process flows out, I work with my customers. "Listen, here's behavioral economics. If you don't contact your learner on a daily basis or weekly basis, they are going to drop off because they're not getting feedback.

If they see this concept as far too big and there's no level up, it doesn't go from novice to expert and get more difficult and user flow mechanics.  They drop off because the fear of mistakes far exceeds the perception of performance. And so, we use something different... I mean, there are hundreds of mechanics. There's leaderboards and level ups and unlocks and Easter eggs and escape rooms and all these really cool things that you can do in order to get the end-user to tick the boxes. Now the boxes that my clients are most interested in are: Are they demonstrating competence in the portfolio? I'll give an example. We did some work with a group of learners and their job was to get into the marketing space. So, we said, when you build your portfolio, you must build in an Easter egg into your portfolio. 

If your Easter egg is smart enough, align to the company values enough and exciting enough… you'll get to spend time with the marketing director. So, we actually force the end-user to use the concept of gamification in order to unlock. With some of the other clients, their learners, if they achieve the task, they actually get to update company policies that HR can sign. So, they're not stuck with a team of three people trying to write properly policies. You got five of these learners all be able to get involved and update the policies according to what's going on. But you can only do that if you achieve this and you can you do that. So, you see, we apply these scenarios. And then the most important gamification is, if the client has the stomach for it, is you create the narrative. 

So, for one client it was to get a diploma. The whole narrative is about a forest that has land. So, the whole picture is a forest with lands and the goal is that you've got to get to the land because the forest is dying. The lands aren't working. And as a person walks into the forest they go through the fire and they go through plagues and they go through kind of erosion. But each of those are problems in the workplace. Fire are the shouting managers. Erosion are the people who don't find the company visions and they kind of talk badly about the company, and all of those are linked. And they've got to deal with these projects as they work through. As they get to the center, they figure out that they are the very reason why the lands are not working because in their capacity, they haven't understood all of these. 

When they get their qualification, the lands start working. The final question is what we call a wicked problem. We go, "You have been headhunted to work for a company. You are struggling to pay your bills. This company will triple your current salary, but your values don't align to them. What will you do?" But they've gone through a whole-- there is no right or wrong answer to that. It doesn't matter what you choose, but they've gone to this and the whole experience is gamified. But they work into this narrative about getting the heart beating again, these lands going in the company. So that's what we do in gamification side and that's, again, all linked to assessments. And assessment delivers competence which deliver a certification in a story of unlocked gamification fun. 

Sylvain: Excellent. Well, thanks for explaining that. That's amazing. Explains gamification well, as well as the concept for the audience. 

Darryn: Thank you. 

Sylvain: Thanks a whole bunch, Darryn, for accepting to take the interview. It's been great. A lot of knowledge, an innovative approach with a very niche market that has demand. I told you before, there is a real demand in market. I've experienced it myself. If people watching this would like to do engage with Darryn and Passion4Performance, we're providing the website in the description or blog article. I'm sure Darryn and his team will welcome you and will do demos and show you how it works and how he can work for you. So, thanks a bunch for accepting the interview and to be here. 

Darryn: Pleasure. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. It's been great. 

Sylvain: Amazing. Thanks a bunch.

About Darryn Van Den Berg - www.linkedin.com/in/darrynvandenberg

Darryn is the Visionary MD of Passion4Performance Group www.p4p.co.za and Chief Play Maker of Gamification Crafters Guild. He has been pioneering alternative learning and development solutions for over 17 years – developing solid Return on Investment methodologies and disrupting the current learning landscapes. He lives his brand of passion and thrives on innovating and effecting positive change in both business and personal life.  

Darryn is regarded as a thought leader in Assessment and recognition of prior learning and a local maverick in Gamification. (Darryn TedTalk)  He specialises in building and applying frameworks that help to demystify the ‘grey’ in complex systems – to maximum user engagement and sustainable solutions. And through creativity, fun and focus continues to grow his portfolio of successful projects and happy clients.

Darryn continues to seek innovative ways (Entrepreneur Interview) redefine complicated processes and initiatives to help people to enjoy what they do – and ultimately convert productivity to business results. He uses the power of technology, augmented realty and progressive systems to enable his ideas.

Darryn has built his name on the conference circuit in #Gamification (CNBC AFRICA) and Learning and Development, contributed to the book “Accelerated Learning” with Debbie Craig, and is pioneering online assessment in recognition of prior learning for Africa.

BRANDS:

Vodacom, Rosebank college, Smarklink ICT, SABC, Sententia Gamification, Vonrick Digital, Capitec bank, FNB, EntrepreNOW!, SAAB, CNBC, Masethuthuka Holdings, Emergence Learning Academy, UFS, NWU Mafikeng, Sasol,

About CykoMetrix - www.CykoMetrix.com

CykoMetrix is a leading edge combinatorial psychometric and human data analytics company that brings the employee assessment industry to the cloud, with instant assessments, in-depth analysis, trait measurements, and team-based reporting features that simplify informed decision-making around recruiting, training, and managing today’s modern workplace.

Written by

Sylvain Rochon

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