Get e-learning success: the four quarters of online assessment
“All I need to do is remember the wording of the questions and tick the right box.”
“I have no idea how long this is going to take, or whether I can save it and come back later.” “Why did I bother learning all of that for this module when the test was so easy?”
We hope that these words are not familiar to you, either as a learner or a learning provider. They are examples of what happens for the user when the assessment process in their software has been neglected. The knock-on effect of any of these statements is a drop in motivation and fundamentally a waste of what could have been a good programme!
Online assessment is like the skeleton in the body of an e-learning programme, it holds the rest together and provides necessary structure. The lesson content itself, the way it is presented and the overall quality of the user experience go a long way, but it is the assessment that makes or breaks the course. The keys to intelligent online assessment aren’t complex by any means, but they can be remarkably simple to overlook with so many other aspects to consider.
Reliability: with the pressure and anxiety associated with assessment, this is the place where unreliable software hurts the most! It sounds simple, but getting the basics right every time in online assessment really counts. Little glitches in recording responses or loading information are enough to create anxiety that has adverse effects on the user’s performance and therefore their uptake of the programme. How would you feel about a piece of software if you had worked hard and mentally prepared yourself for an exam, and you couldn’t access the right section of the programme at that critical moment?
Fairness: is the assessment result truly representative of the learner’s ability? How do you know? Measuring performance and identifying gaps in knowledge are the first step to fairness; this allows the learner to be at ease with the results. Yes, even if they fail they will know underneath their disappointment that this was a fair representation of their ability. Absolute clarity on your expectations is a prerequisite: if you know precisely what you expect then you can build your assessment with precision, basing it on the correct metrics at every level.
Flexibility: e-learning turns the tables, it puts the ball in the learner’s court. They lead the process, they decide how and where they want to manage their learning experience. Bear this in mind when creating your assessment ,as many learning providers mistakenly believe there is a correlation in assessment between rigidity and accuracy. This is a paradigm shift in learning that can be hard to swallow - by creating flexible and open procedures, the assessment can be just as challenging but remain unhindered by the irritation and difficulty of excessive control.
Imagination: do not underestimate the psychological impact of exams! If your online assessment isn’t challenging and unpredictable, you are missing out on one of the great opportunities of e-learning. Think outside the box: learners will be emotionally attached to their scores even for the smallest of tests, so (just like a good joke) it’s all about how you tell it. Work with the psychology of assessment, carefully consider the human aspects so that your learners become genuinely attached to the outcome, rather than going through the motions just to tick a box.
With all of these factors integrated into your e-learning software, you will find that the assessment process really drives the programme and motivates your learners towards real growth. Online learning does not need to be superficial; with well-conceived and imaginative assessment it can be more accurate and challenging than even the most tried and tested traditional assessments.