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The art of assessment: adding value to elearning

One of the most important aspects of creating effective elearning lies in the construction of the assessment questions. Renowned learning pioneer Robert Gagné references the importance of assessment in his nine-step instruction model, citing step eight as reinforcing information through performance and formative evaluation. Although contemporary designers don’t necessarily follow Gagné’s model down to the last detail, we still apply these principles to creating elearning quiz questions in modern elearning.

A photo of a female learner looking at elearning quiz questions on a laptop

Elearning quiz questions (specifically MCQs) are often criticised in the elearning world for not adding any true value besides testing superficial recall. An assessment should aim to test real comprehension and stimulate the learner to utilise critical thinking.

So, what makes a bad elearning quiz question?

There are many different angles to bear in mind. When it comes down to it, a bad assessment is one that does nothing for the learner besides indicate that they completed a course.

Of course, composing a good assessment question is not all black and white, and may take some practice. Fortunately, there are simple tactics to keep in mind that can help improve your question-writing skills. A solid question has plausible distracters. This means that the learner should not easily be able to determine which answer is correct by simply skimming the choices.

That said, it’s important to consider the length of your answer choices. It is not uncommon for the correct answer to be the longest and wordiest choice because of the amount of detail included. Take the time to ensure your answer choices mirror each other in terms of detail and length.

Additionally, consider the ever-common ‘All/None of the above’ situations – for example:

A good elearning quiz question contains what?

  1. Plausible distractors
  2. Thought-provoking content
  3. Information relevant to the learner
  4. All of the above

Can you guess what the correct answer is? Studies show that when ‘all/none of the above’ appears on an assessment, it is more than likely the correct answer.

These types of elearning quizzes should therefore be used with caution, as lack of consistency with them can impede real learning.

The truly challenging and effective assessments are those that pinpoint the most vital knowledge to take away from the learning – not just posing a question, but setting a situation. Constructing real-life, relatable scenarios gives the learner a sense of responsibility and a feel for what the consequences of not knowing that information might be.

Without adequate question structure, it’s difficult to determine whether the learner’s abilities were truly assessed. Leaving elearning quizzes too simple and obvious results in learners gaining little to no knowledge, but the same goes for convoluted and complex questions that miss the essential point of the learner’s journey.

As a designer, ask yourself, “What are the most important areas of this learning, and how can I provoke the learner to make inferences about these on their own?”  Put some thought into the learner as an individual, and it’s sure to make a difference in both the questions and the results.

All in all – if you fail to meet the standards of composing an engaging assessment, the only thing that will be in question is the value of your elearning.

This blog comes from Taylor Brundage, a Learning Designer in our New York office.

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