ITIL® Practitioner: The Challenges with Testing Practical Skills

ITIL® Practitioner: The Challenges with Testing Practical Skills

When organizations send employees for additional training or qualifications they need to have confidence that their money and time have been well spent and that the employees’ new skills will make a difference to their business.

Lou HunnebeckIf the learning experience was effective, and the learner was able to practice skills as well as study the facts about them, testing those skills may seem superfluous to the learner; they know how well they’ve absorbed what they learned in class and feel they can demonstrate how to apply the skills once they return to their working environment. But their employer, who likely paid for the class, typically wants more tangible and immediate evidence. Employers want to see employees returning with both results on paper and with the skills to make a true difference in the organization.

Testing practical skills

The word “test” can make people nervous. Learners need to feel confident in the knowledge they acquired in class and they need to feel that the associated examination is fair and appropriate. The new ITIL Practitioner qualification needs to be very practical, hopefully inspiring innovative teaching from Accredited Training Organizations (ATOs). The AXELOS ITIL Practitioner Architect Team considers this to be one of the key challenges: to ensure the exam, syllabus and learning material support ATOs in creating highly interactive courses. If these pieces all come together properly, then the ITIL Practitioner qualification will have real value for both learners and their organizations.

But how do we achieve this in regards to the testing methodology? In the days of the Service Manager qualification (associated with ITIL V2), the two exams were essay-based; each paper was sent away and reviewed by two people - plus a third if the first two didn’t agree - and returned four to eight weeks later. Logistically it was difficult and time-consuming to accomplish, as well as being labour-intensive. It was arguably a fairly effective way of testing advanced skills, but not a particularly efficient one.

With the new ITIL Practitioner qualification we’re trying to achieve the best of both worlds, reviewing learners in an effective way without introducing methods that are so inefficient they become impossible to administer in the current real world market.

Assessing ITIL Practitioner

We know, of course, that learners will have to take an exam to become certified. Right now we are exploring ways to allow learners to demonstrate what they’ve learned in a fair way that is also efficient to manage. The Foundation qualification is primarily about learning ITIL facts – structure, terminology, concepts and principles that can reasonably be tested in a simple multiple choice examination. The candidate either absorbed the facts or they didn’t.

For ITIL Practitioner, however, the questions need to be structured in such a way that, in addition to applying certain elements of factual knowledge, the candidate also has to demonstrate judgement in applying that knowledge to real world situations. This is what will differentiate between purely factual and more practical knowledge.

Of course, in a testing situation, the candidate also has to be confident that they are being assessed objectively. This is the dilemma. How do you test the correctness of someone’s judgement? The trick is to ensure that the principles underlying the methods and techniques taught in Practitioner classes are defined clearly enough. If they are, then questions can be constructed that demonstrate whether or not the candidate has correctly applied what they have learned to the situations presented to them in the exam. While the ITIL Practitioner Architect Team is highly experienced in the subject matter, fortunately through AXELOS, we have access to a very talented team of exam specialists that will guide us to writing it in such a way. I’ve been excited to learn about the broad experience and knowledge of this team of exam specialists and I feel confident that they will help us leverage the right testing methods.

Addressing practical skills with ITIL Practitioner

As to the content, there are too many methods and techniques in the IT Service Management (ITSM) arena to cover all of them in enough depth to be truly useful in the two-day timeframe targeted for ITIL Practitioner classes, so we are selecting key areas where additional skills will make a true difference – honing the list down to a set of essentials. So far, we have been looking at key methods and techniques in these areas:

  • The Continual Service Improvement (CSI) Approach – we are using the CSI Approach as a framework or guide and expanding practitioner’s knowledge around using it for action. The CSI Approach is already taught in Foundation at a very high level, but we want ITIL Practitioner to explore this approach in more depth.
  • Communication and marketing skills – it’s vital that people within an organization are all moving in the same direction and understand the relevance of what they do in order to be successful in ITSM.
  • Goal setting, metrics and measurement skills – such skills provide ITSM practitioners with a clearly agreed, focused path and bring clarity to measuring success against set goals.
  • Skills in discovery – this is about understanding what an organization is looking to achieve and to do this we need to be able to look at the organization as a whole and objectively assess its current state. This is a significantly important step in planning a meaningful way to make the right decisions on improvements.
  • Planning skills – skills in planning are essential in enabling informed, efficient and effective decisions on improvements and then making a practical plan to carry them out.

Evaluating practical skills is challenging but it also gives ATOs a great deal of opportunity to “amp up” the level of creativity for this course, making it an interactive, practical and exciting learning experience for everyone and preparing candidates for a practical skills test.

ITIL Practitioner will be a sound beginning in developing the key skills practitioners need to have to help their organizations along the road of adopting and adapting ITIL.

What are your thoughts about applying and combining the theory and principles of service management as defined by the ITIL framework to practical situations and skills? Do you think the ITIL Practitioner qualification will help service managers to do this? Please share your views in the comments box below.

For more information see our ITIL Practitioner qualification section.

More about ITIL Practitioner from AXELOS

AXELOS Blog Post: ITIL® Practitioner: preparing you for the real world of ITSM
AXELOS Blog Post: Top 10 reasons why ITSM practitioners should welcome ITIL® Practitioner

AXELOS Blog Post: Taking the next step with ITIL®

AXELOS uses global crowdsourcing in the development of ITIL® Practitioner
AXELOS announces ITIL® Practitioner Architects Team
Press Release: ITIL® evolves with the “ITIL Practitioner” qualification from AXELOS


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ITIL Practitioner Guidance

ITIL® Practitioner Guide

The ITIL Practitioner Guidance accompanies the qualification and provides a practical guide to putting ITIL theory into practice.

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