Do online programs have unique assessment needs?
I was recently asked “Do online programs have unique assessment needs, or can we just use the learning objective’s for traditional programs?”
Learning Objectives and Learning Outcomes are related, but not the same. Learning objectives should be consistent across modes of delivery. The course, institution, student and instructor should attempt to achieve the objectives that lead to successful outcomes. Here is a good description: https://provost.rpi.edu/learning-assessment/learning-outcomes/objectives-vs-outcomes
I think the key is that the objectives should be the same, but the outcomes (the ways in which the objectives are measured) may likely differ due to the online environment.
So, the question “Do online programs have unique assessment needs, or can we just use the learning objective’s for traditional programs?” is problematic, as it is actually 2 separate questions:
- Do online programs have unique assessment needs?
Answer: yes. How assessments are designed to measure learning/understanding needs to be optimized for the environment.
- Can we just use the learning objective’s for traditional programs?
Answer: yes. Learning objectives/outcomes should be consistent across modalities, but how students meet those objectives, arrive at those outcomes might differ.
A well-designed assessment is one that is appropriate and effective for the teaching/learning environment – that is, one that leverages the options and mitigates the limitations of the environment – this is true for any environment, or modality of teaching and learning.
An assessment assists both the instructor and the learner to measure and assess how well a learner has understood the targeted concept, material, theory, etc., that is the focus of a specific learning objective/goal.
So, a well-designed assessment starts with a well-articulated learning objective; presents content targeting that objective in an effective and engaging manner, facilitates opportunities for engagement, interaction and collaboration around the content; and includes opportunities to apply and make learner thinking and learning visible, so that it can be assessed/evaluated (by the instructor or peers) and open to feedback, correction, redirection, and guided to deeper thinking, refinement, and/or iteration.
Learning theory, learning design, and instructional design, including pedagogical best practices specific to various combinations of online teaching, are the specialities of online instructional designers. There is a LOT to know about how to design effective online teaching and learning objectives, content, interaction and assessments and evaluations.
It varies and depends on the discipline, level, and the skills and receptiveness of the instructor. In general, we know for example, that online assessments are typically take home, open book, and potentially collaborative in nature, so designing one or 2 high stakes assessments that are multiple choice (MC) tests as the main method of assessment/evaluation would not be an effective way to measure learning, or understanding in an online course. Alternatively, using MC self-tests with opportunities to retake them are excellent ways to support and reinforce online learner comprehension of reading material, or content presentation. So, instead of simply duplicating assessment strategies from the face-to-face environment, a re-conceptualization is necessary to ensure that the method of assessment is actually measuring what one intends, and that it is effective, efficient, engaging, and successful from both learner and instructor perspectives.
For example, that is why online “discussions” are not simply “class participation,” and typically, when well-designed, carry a commensurate weight in terms of percentage of grade (20% or more). Providing online learners with opportunities for well-crafted facilitated online interactions helps learners contextualize, apply, and articulate concepts, and to engage with others to question, defend, support, or refute course concepts, as they engage and interact with others in guided online interactions. Peer-assessments that are based on rubrics are an excellent way to scaffold learners as they learn what is expected and challenge themselves and others to meet those expectations. Collaborative projects, or projects that give learners the opportunity to apply course concepts or to engage in some meaningful way also provide opportunities for learners to make their thinking and learning visible to the instructor and others in the class so that feedback can be provided.
As mentioned, well-articulated learning objectives/outcomes set the parameters. Designing effective online content presentation, facilitating engaging and effective online interaction and collaboration, and providing effective, efficient, and authentic opportunities for online assessment and feedback all then have to work in concert.
We have developed a number of resources to support online faculty and instructional designers to design better online assessments, to understand best practices:
and to understand theory and research underlying recommendations and best practices
Adopting Universal Learning Design principles, and providing online learners with opportunities for metacognitive reflection and for engaging in activities that are NOT online, and giving leaners choices and options in how they make their thinking and learning visible are also key ways to approach well-designed online assessments.
Here are some additional tools we have developed to assist: