Assessing Learning

In the previous section you developed an assessment strategy for the entire course. That is part of what is typically referred to as summative assessment for the course. At certain intervals during the course, students are assessed to see if they are learning what they are supposed to learn, which has been determined by the course learning objectives. Summative assessment is typically associated with a grade which represents the standard to which learners have performed.

In this section, we are going to focus on formative assessment, which has particular importance in online and blended learning. Formative assessment aims to motivate learners by providing an indication of their progress. It gives them an idea of where they are in the process, and offers guidance on what to do next and how to proceed. Should students review a concept to make sure they are successful or are they apt to continue on to the next stage? As you can guess, this type of guidance is especially important when learners are studying on their own or at a distance. Formative assessment tends to be continuous, which means that learners are assessed throughout the learning process and not just at specific intervals in a course or at the end of the course. Adult learning design should include many activities for learners to do throughout the course, preferably experiential activities that allow for hands-on practice of learned concepts.

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The chapter on assessment in "Creating Learning Materials for Open and Distance Learning: A handbook for Authors and Instructional Designers", published by COL, provides a good overview of formative and summative assessment.

Why Assess Adult Learners?

While assessing adult learners can also have a focus on grades and continuing on to further academic study, it typically has a stronger focus on improvement of learning. Below is a list of different purposes for assessing adult learners:

  • To determine entry-level knowledge and learning needs
  • To continuously monitor learning progress
  • To help learners make decisions about their own learning and next actions
  • To compare learner performance at the end of the course to its aims and goals
  • To assess the effectiveness of the teaching methods as well as the effectiveness of the course (objectives, materials, activities, etc.)
  • To determine learner satisfaction
  • To develop learners' ability to assess themselves, monitor their own learning and plan their continued growth
The main difference between assessing adult learners and young adults or children, is that we grant adults control of their own learning process. Adult learners are motivated by making their own choices and determining their learning paths. As designers, it is important to keep this in mind when planning formative and summative assessment.