Assessment is used to measure learning outcomes, but if you see it only as a testing tool you’re missing half its value. Assessment should not be punitive; it should uncover the learner’s strengths and help identify areas for improvement. Well planned and integrated assessment creates opportunities for learners to reflect on their learning, apply new skills and knowledge, and also enables the institution to recognize the value on the learning intervention. Adapting existing models can take you much further than re-creating the wheel. In this post, we examine some guiding principles for effective assessment.
An excellent example of assessment as a way to support learning goals is Adobe’s Certified Associate practice tests. Learners can take a certification exam without any structured practice, but there is also an unlimited certification prep test package. The practice test closely mimics the structure of the final exam. Both combine multiple choice questions and simulations of the Adobe environment. The multiple choice questions require the learner to demonstrate knowledge of design concepts and the production process. The simulations require the learner to complete a task within the simulated software application interface. Keyboard shortcuts are disabled, but otherwise, learners can use any correct method they choose to complete the task, using menus or panels as appropriate.
Another good example is the Sun (now Oracle) Java certification paths. Each path contains a test prep “kit” that includes preparation recommendations, additional resources, a practice test, and a re-take policy. Each path is designed to prepare the learner to achieve a specific level of certification, and used as a benchmark against industry standards. These certifications are recognized by employers and can advance a person in their career.
Accreditation or certification can be used to validate mastery of a topic, but this is not the only way that assessment can be useful. By seeing assessment an integral part of instruction, we can support the learner’s career development while measuring true performance for the business.
Factors that make an ASSESSMENT tool also a useful INSTRUCTIONAL tool are:
- The learner performs the task in context, not recalling theory, but actually demonstrating competency.
- Open ended
- Because the end product is assessed, not the method used to get there, learners are able to use whatever menus or panels they choose.
- Learning while doing
- Learners use contextual clues and critical thinking to complete tasks. They may not know how to adjust alpha levels in Photoshop, but they may know to investigate the color panel to find them.
- Learners can mark questions that they’d like to return to if they have time or opportunity.
- Cumulative time
- The test is timed with one master clock, not with individual times for certain sections or items.
- Learners receive feedback on each item, with notes about the correct answer.
- Performance from one practice test to another is tracked.
Assessment is not something that should only occur in a testing situation, indicating pass/fail rates, but it should be integrated throughout instruction to allow the learner to know how they are doing, so they can learn more effectively. You don’t want your learner to leave half-assessed!
A version of this post originally appeared in The Total Learner Experience in August 2011.