Different Ways to Assess Learners Online

There are many different ways to assess your learners in an online setting.  Most of us have included quizzes or other tests in our online modules as this is a convenient way to track knowledge especially via an LMS.

Before I decide on an assessment strategy, I always ask myself the ‘big’ questions during the Design phase of the project:

  • Is the assessment authentic and based on real life application?
  • Is the assessment directly linked to learning outcomes?
  • Is there an option to assess using different methods?
  • How will you provide feedback? How detailed will this feedback be?
  • How often will you assess through the course or module?

I look at the end goal for this learning intervention and what type of assessment/s will yield the desired evidence.  I also question if my assessment methods need to be formative or summative?

  • Formative: activities that assess and provide feedback during the learning process
  • Summative: using grades to demonstrate learner growth after instruction

Down through the years I have used a variety of assessment methods. Like many of my adventures in elearning, some strategies have worked better than others! Some of these methods are also more time-consuming than others but in the long run have created a more meaningful, memorable learning experience based on feedback I’ve received at the end of these training courses.

Assessment methods in a online setting can include:

  • Online quizzes: This can include pre-course, post-course quizzes. Some instructional designers like to assess throughout the module and calculate the results at the end. They are a quick and useful way to gather information on learner success however due to many badly written quizzes and badly timed quizzes these can sometimes have a negative or useless effect on the learner’s experience. I’ll discuss quizzes and writing questions in more detail in my next blog post.
  • Webinar: Webinars can be a great way to track attendance (also linking this back to your LMS records). In the past I’ve used webinars to assess learners’ presentation skills and also to conduct verbal assessments by directing questions at specific students. I also record all of these webinars as further assessment evidence.
  • Uploaded assignments to an LMS: Students can still upload assignments or other text based work to an LMS. Some LMS can mark this text however the preferred method is for an assessor/trainer to mark this work and provide a grade.
  • Online /e-portfolio: Collections of work (files, graphics, photos, curriculum vitas, multimedia etc) used to demonstrate competence that grows with the learner through a lifelong cycle of training and employment. The purpose of most e-portfolios is to provide learners with a space to record, reflect and present information about themselves and their education and training experiences for the purposes of learning, assessment, and making transitions, particularly to employment.
  • Discussion forums: Learners can answer questions and share information about a certain topic or scenario. Sometimes assessors gather quantitative evidence based on how many posts or interactions the learner has made. However the preferred method is for the assessor/trainer interacting with learners to enhance their work and support their learning.
  • Other systems (e.g. social network): these again provide a more quantitative method of gathering information about student activity either on the LMS or other online community.  This is really only tick the box style evidence.
  • Phone assessment: in some instances, I’ve reverted back to verbally assessing a student over the phone if there have been issues with accessibility or student engagement. Then I’ve manually entered this data into the LMS or recorded the phone-call and uploaded the audio file to the LMS as evidence.
  • Online simulations/scenarios: Instead of just presenting the information and concluding with a quiz, some instructional designers present their course material as one complete simulation/scenario. The learner is presented with situations and must make decisions. Information can be provided to the learner before they begin the simulation and an LMS can gather data based on number of screens or questions answered. This can create a meaningful learning experience but will take more time to develop and trial.

It’s also worthwhile looking at how much time the assessor/trainer will have to grade those assessments especially if they are qualitative in nature as these can end up becoming quite time-consuming but on the plus side, they will provide you with a deeper understanding of what your learner has gained from the course.