Designing quality learning content takes time and strategy. There’s no point in designing a learning program that doesn’t help learners become more successful. If you’re going to go through the effort, don’t you want to at least know that your program is effective? In this post, I’ll outline five types of learning assessments and key questions to ask as you design your assessment strategy, so that you can start to measure success and increase learner satisfaction right away.
5 Types of Assessments
Diagnostic assessments are typically given before instruction in order to ascertain what the learner knows about the subject before the lesson begins. In what areas does the learner need to improve? In what areas are they already proficient? The diagnostic evaluation is intended to be used as the basis for developing course content, or directing the learner to existing resources. It can be administered as a quiz or survey. Diagnostic surveys are also used to conduct a comparative analysis against the learner’s performance in other exams.
Formative assessments are issued throughout a course. Learners are tested on how well they can integrate newly introduced content with what they learned in previous experiences. Course designers use formative assessments to tweak instructional content, making adjustments to pacing, sequencing, language, interactivity, etc. Formative assessments can be quizzes, conversations with an instructor, or games.
Also referred to as the interim assessment, benchmark evaluations are issued periodically over a longer period of time (usually months) and are typically used to predict how well a learner will perform on the summative evaluations. Course designers use benchmark tests to map out the strengths and weaknesses of their learners so that they can provide resources to assist them in these areas in preparation for the final exam. Essentially, benchmarks are interim summative assessments.
How well are learners performing against their peers? The norm-referenced assessment is designed to measure the performance of learners within a certain group or demographic, like grade-level, age, nationality, etc. This information is useful when analyzing how social and cultural factors contribute to learner performance.
A summative assessment is administered at the end of a lesson. There should only be one summative assessment per lesson. Summative evaluations cover all of the topics introduced by the lesson objectives(s).
Designing an Assessment Strategy
Assessments are designed around the learning objectives of a particular course or lesson, that is, what you want the learner to know, how you want them to think, or what you want them to be able to do. It is a good idea to design your lesson around the assessment questions, which should be drafted beforehand. Now that you know the different types of assessments, here are some questions you should ask yourself when designing your assessment strategy:
How can the learner adequately demonstrate knowledge and mastery of the subject?
Include opportunities for the learner to retrieve, recall and demonstrate what they have learned in the lesson thus far. For virtual learning or blended learning environments, multiple choice questions, simulations, short and long answers are common ways to achieve this.
What is the mode of assessment?
Will the evaluation be issued over computer, by written assignment, quiz, class conversation, etc? Do some research on the subject, the participants, and the environment before designing the lesson.
How frequently are learners being tested?
The frequency of testing influences learner engagement, motivation and memory. The more opportunities the learner has to retrieve and recall information the more likely they will have a productive learning experience. Test the participant after presenting 3-5 new concepts within a lesson.
How much time does the learner have to finish the assessment?
When designing tests, take into account how quickly the participant reads, their cognitive level, and the complexity of the questions being asked. Are they multiple choice, matching, drag and drop, short answer or long answer? What types of motor and cognitive skills are needed to answer the question? Will they have to show their work? Give the participant enough time to read each question at least three times, or enough time to review a writing block at least 3 times. The first time a participant reads a question they are cognitively orienting themselves to the question, hopefully retrieving the answer before they have read options presented. The second time, the participant is reviewing all of options presented and making their choice, and the third time, the participant is reviewing their choice against all others. Bear in mind, timed questions increase motivation but they may also increase anxiety, so give the learner ample time to complete tasks.
Where is the learning environment?
Consider whether the learner will be at home, in school, at work, etc, and any impact this will have on how the assessment is designed. Adjust the difficulty of the questions based on where the exam will be administered. Typically home-based examinations are more difficult because it is difficult to make sure the participant doesn’t cheat. In office and school environments, timed examinations are appropriate because of their hours of operation.
Are the questions appropriate for the cognitive level of the learner?
Consider whether the questions are too easy, or too difficult, and whether they are age-appropriate. Questions that are too easy or too difficult negatively affect the motivation of the participant. If a learner understands the lesson but does not understand the wording of the test they will more than likely answer the question incorrectly. For example, if a learner is at the concrete operational stage of development, do not present questions that require a formal operational thinking unless the lesson was designed to improve the latter.
Does the learner know what to expect during the assessment?
Have you sufficiently set expectations for the type of assessment? Is the learner being testing on the appropriate content? For example, a course teaches the phases of the water cycle, and each unit breaks down the phases into individual lessons. For the assessment, the questions must pertain to only information that has already been presented in the course. For a formative assessment, test on content within a specific unit, the benchmark would test on all units that have been covered, and the summative assessment would test on the entire program.
Learning objectives and assessments are some of the most important elements of any instructional plan. Assessments are equally important for learners and course designers, facilitating a feedback loop that is used to build an engaging, informative, challenging, yet motivating interactive learning experience.
For help designing an assessment strategy, contact Reva Digital for a consultation.