Designing e-learning

Assessment and the Importance of Feedback

Learners need to know how they are progressing. An essential difference between organized instruction and merely reading a book is the opportunity offered to check one’s understanding and competency of performance.

Learners making good progress should have this confirmed, thus giving them confidence to tackle more advanced topics with confidence. Where learners are experiencing problems these need to be identified and appropriate remedial help offered.

Assessment is the process of measuring how effectively learning is taking (or has taken) place. Assessment may be either formative or summative.

Formative assessment is used throughout learning process to provide feedback to both learner and teacher.

Summative assessment is used to assess the degree to which the learner has achieved the objectives of a piece of learning.

Some forms of assessment can be both formative and summative, eg a mid-term coursework which counts towards the final grade but also informs learners of their particular strengths and weaknesses.

Assessment gives learners the opportunity to receive feedback and is thus an essential part of the learning process.

Learning in isolation from books generally includes no means of assessment, though some textbooks offer end of chapter exercises. Followers of such an approach would be advised to find some means to apply their learning if it is to be of lasting significance.

Some traditional lecture courses assessed solely by final exam with learners only being told their score offer no feedback, thus students are left in the dark about what they have and have not mastered.

Assessment, like learning activities, must be aligned with the learning objectives. The learning objectives define what assessment should measure. As many learners adopt a strategic approach to learning, in which assessment success is the goal, it follows that assessment should assess that which we want learners to learn.

Types of assessment

The following are some of the most commonly used assessment instruments

Examinations: Time-limited tests undertaken under controlled conditions. Exams may be closed book (learners may not bring notes, textbooks etc into room) or open book (learners may use reference material). Closed book exams are essentially a test of memory. Learners “cram” material prior to the exam, much of which is often forgotten soon afterwards. Open book exams provide a truer test of understanding by requiring learners to show that they can appropriately select and apply material. In most cases open book exams provide a more authentic representation of how learning will be applied.

Multiple choice questions (MCQs): Learners select appropriate responses from a closed list. For guidance on writing MCQs, see Assessing by multiple choice question (MCQ) tests from the UK Centre for Legal Education.

Short answer questions: Answers range from a single word or number to a paragraph or more. Answers may be diagrammatic.

Presentations: Learners undertake some task and report their results to peers. In a group environment learners may undertake different tasks, thus enabling participants to learn from one another. Presentations may be oral, poster, or online (eg Web).

Group assignments: Learners work together to complete a task. In an increasingly complex society, greater levels of specialization make it inevitable that most non-trivial projects involve the input of multiple participants. Group work serves a useful purpose in preparing learners for this scenario. Grading of group assignments can present difficulties as it may be difficult to identify the degree of each individual’s contribution. For more information, see Enhancing Experiences of Group Work, a resource kit from the University of Technology Sydney to assist lecturers and tutors in managing and motivating student groups.

Practicum: Learners demonstrate their ability to perform a practical task in authentic conditions, eg the driving test, medical procedures…

Written reports, papers, essays: May range from a single page on a given topic through to full-length postgraduate theses and dissertations.

Multiple choice and some short answer questions are particularly suited to computer based testing.

Computer based testing (assessment) allows learners to test themselves as often as they wish without the possible embarrassment of making errors in front of teachers or peers. Computer based testing can provide immediate feedback while the process of solving questions is still fresh in the mind. It can also offer hyperlinks to remedial material so that difficulties may be readily addressed.

Computer based simulations also offer valuable feedback on performance, in many cases more cheaply and safely than real life experimentation, eg it would be highly dangerous to allow learners to experiment with the configuration of a nuclear reactor.

Recommended reading

Assessment Clear and Simple : A Practical Guide for Institutions, Departments, and General Education Barbara E. Walvoord. Assessment 101 in a book – a concise and step-by-step guide written for everyone who participates in the assessment process. This practical book helps to make assessment simple, cost-efficient, and useful to the institution, while at the same time meeting the requirements of accreditation agencies, legislatures, review boards, and others.

Web resources

Testing and Assessment Issues and Grading, chapters from Florida State University’s online instructional handbook (PDF, free online reader available from Adobe).

Student Enhanced Learning through Effective Feedback – SENLEF, a resource for practitioners wishing to improve their feedback practice or get some exciting new ideas.

Managing Effective Student Assessment (MESA), a practical tool developed by the Managing Effective Student Assessment (MESA) benchmarking club. It aims to give senior management, staff and educational developers, teachers, and support staff insight into assessment issues along with ideas and tools to enable them to improve student learning and reduce the burden on staff.

Further Information

Recommended reading

Designing Effective Instruction Gary R. Morrison, Steven M. Ross, Jerrold E. Kemp. This valuable resource provides instructional designers with the guidance they need to meet the challenge of creating effective and efficient instruction.

Rapid Instructional Design : Learning ID Fast and Right George M. Piskurich. Presents a basic understanding of what instructional design is and a hands-on, to-the-point method of ensuring that the training and performance interventions you put into place meet the needs of your staff and organization.

The Systematic Design of Instruction Walter O Dick, Lou Carey, James O Carey. This classic text introduces students to the fundamentals of instructional design and helps them learn the concepts and procedures for designing, developing, and evaluating instruction for all delivery formats.

More Instructional Design books

Web resources

A Guide to Teaching & Learning Practices Florida State University’s online instructional handbook.

infed The informal education homepage is a resource for community education, informal adult education, lifelong learning, community work, youth work, youth development, animation and informal educators everywhere. Features the encyclopaedia of informal education providing a comprehensive survey of informal education and lifelong learning with over 100 articles and original pieces.

Explorations in Learning & Instruction: The Theory Into Practice Database The database contains brief summaries of 50 major theories of learning and instruction. These theories can also be accessed by learning domains and concepts.

IEEE Reference Guide for Instructional Design and Development (PDF, free online reader available from Adobe) This guide is designed to help instructors apply sound principles of design to the creation of courses.

Instructional Design & Learning Theory This paper by Brenda Mergel addresses the questions of why it seems so difficult to differentiate between three basic theories of learning, why the names of theorists appear connected to more than one theory, and why terms and strategies of each theory overlap.

Instructional Technology Connections An extensive, well organized hypertext index on the theory and philosophy of technology for learning and instruction.

All links last accessed June 2005.

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