If you are like me, you likely disdained the quizzes during your school and college days. In hindsight, despite the disdain then, we now appreciate the essential role quizzes played in facilitating better learning and knowledge retention. 

Quizzes are effective learning tools because they demand memory recall, reinforcing the retention of information as we search our memory for answers. The answers we receive following a quiz help refresh our memory.  

We can take advantage of these benefits of quizzes by integrating them as part of our safety training programs. Whether we include quizzes as part of our toolbox talk meetings or as standalone questions posed before daily sign-ins, safety quizzes become invaluable tools for enhancing our crew’s safety knowledge. 

However, as we all know, possessing a valuable tool doesn’t automatically guarantee results; effective usage is key. Learning tools are no exception, and this holds especially true due to the intricate aspects of human psychology. So, how can we ensure safety quizzes are effective in our training?

Help learn from success

When providing feedback following a quiz, it is natural to place an emphasis on the “failures,” and offer feedback to those who have responded incorrectly and not to those who have answered correctly. At first glance, this approach appears logical, as those who have answered correctly already possess the correct knowledge. The priority, it would seem, should be to provide relevant feedback to those with incorrect answers.

Contrary to what seems natural, studies have revealed that individuals who receive feedback indicating success tend to learn significantly more than those who receive feedback indicating failure. Those who received success feedback showed greater engagement, attentiveness, and a more effective learning process compared to individuals in the failure condition.

Given this finding, after every safety quiz, it is crucial to acknowledge and affirm people when they are right, as this is just as important as correcting them when they are wrong. 

Providing success feedback to those crew members who answer their quiz questions correctly reinforces knowledge retention among them. This is important not only because of the better knowledge retention but also because it has a positive impact on a larger proportion of the crews. 

Re-takes for success and self-esteem

Our reluctance to learn from failure is compounded by a broader issue – our aversion to receiving bad news. Often, we go to great lengths to avoid confronting unpleasant information, even when it could be valuable to us.

Researchers have consistently observed that when individuals provide incorrect answers, they tend to report lower self-esteem. These studies repeatedly reveal that one reason people struggle with learning and engagement is that they interpret mistakes as a reflection of their own competence, striving to perceive themselves as capable and competent individuals. 

One way we can reduce the impact on self-esteem and the tendency to tune out is by allowing crew members to retake safety quizzes. There’s a good chance that, on retakes, they will answer the questions correctly, receive positive feedback (as noted in the previous section), and consequently, boost their self-esteem.

Learning from the mistakes of others

We feel bad about failure, regardless of how small the failure is, do our best to avoid it, and disengage from it when we fail. Our learning is considerably hindered when we experience our own failure compared to experiencing success. 

However, we do not have the same kind of emotional response when it is someone else’s failure.  Researchers have discovered when we observe someone else failing or succeeding there is virtually no disparity in our ability to extract valuable information from both situations. Essentially, we can glean insights from failure just as effectively as we can from success, provided that our personal ego isn’t directly involved in the situation.

This underscores a mechanism through which we can effectively learn from feedback. When feedback isn’t directed at us directly, it becomes simpler for us to process it. In such cases, our own self-esteem isn’t at stake, eliminating the personal threat perception. Consequently, we can perform the vital task necessary for learning: paying close attention and actively engaging with the experience, rather than disengaging or tuning out.

One way to harness this innate tendency is by sharing the successes and failures of others with our crew members. When a quiz question receives frequent incorrect answers, framing the feedback as a common occurrence, as if others have also faced difficulty with it, can help depersonalize the experience. This way, it shifts the focus away from personal ego and positions it as a shared learning opportunity from the failures of others.

De-emphasis on success and perfection

As we recounted repeatedly above, what gets in the way of learning from your failures is how failures bruise our egos. When a quiz is perceived as an individual performance assessment tool, this problem is amplified. 

Research indicates that this performance-versus-learning trade-off can render the learning aspect of quizzes less effective. When individuals become overly preoccupied with how they perform, how they appear to others, and how they measure up, they often neglect the learning aspect. It’s quite common for all of us to overestimate the importance of performing well compared to the value of learning, even during quizzes. People consistently overestimate the importance of success and underestimate the potential for learning from failure.

To overcome this limitation, one effective approach is to de-emphasize, or even remove entirely, the individual performance-oriented aspect of quizzes and emphasize their role as tools for learning. Communicating to crew members that the quiz’s purpose is primarily to promote learning, and stressing that incorrect answers should not be seen negatively but as opportunities for learning, can be beneficial. 

Put a distance between individuals and their failures and focus on a larger goal 

Having a bigger goal in mind, a clear destination, helps us put smaller failures into perspective. It prevents us from getting bogged down by any particular setback. Even if we do encounter difficulties, we can remind ourselves of the ultimate goal. This perspective makes the small failures, while they may sting, seem less significant because we recognize that they are not the ultimate aim. By saying, “I’m doing this because I genuinely believe in this cause”, we distance ourselves from our failure,  the failures lose their pain, and we become more open to learning from them.

An effective strategy to improve learning from safety quizzes is by focusing on the quizzes’ bigger goals and framing them as small steps towards a bigger goal of safety. By reminding our crew to focus on the larger goal, the smaller failures they encounter and the minor setbacks they face become more manageable. When they are committed to something greater than themselves, it becomes easier for them to accept feedback about their failures in their safety quizzes and glean valuable lessons.

Safety quizzes are potent tools for learning and boosting safety awareness among crew members. Prioritizing success feedback, learning from others’ mistakes, and emotional detachment can enhance their effectiveness. By emphasizing quizzes as learning tools, not just performance assessments, we create a better learning environment. These strategies empower safety managers to fully utilize safety quizzes for creating safer work environments.