How Should You Design Your Online Course’s Assessments?

Assessments are a critical component of eLearning courses, but is there a best practice for designing their frequency or depth? There are currently two popular views regarding testing and quizzing digital learners:

  • Readiness Assessment Tests (RATs) – This strategy enables instructional designers to administer quizzes at the end of a particular milestone to determine a learner’s comprehension of the material. Such tests are typically presented at the end of a course, upon lesson completion, or as part of the final semester exam.
  • Frequent Quizzes – This strategy espouses presenting learners with frequent quizzes at various intervals during a lesson or at multiple times during a particular milestone.

So, the question is: do frequent quizzes really help? Does research suggest that better learning outcomes occur when students complete a number of quizzes within a single lesson as opposed to taking one comprehensive test at the end of the course?

What the Evidence Suggests

In an interesting study (Karpicke JD, Roediger HL III) conducted in 2008 by renowned psychologists and researchers, the impact of repeated testing on students in a language class was analyzed under 3 different sets of conditions:

  • Condition A: Once vocabulary was known, it was repeated frequently, but never tested again
  • Condition B: Once vocabulary was known, it was frequently tested, but never repeated again
  • Condition C: Once vocabulary was known, it was never repeated or tested again

According to the findings, frequently repeating the vocabulary (Condition A) had no significant impact on delayed recall, but by frequently testing subjects (Condition B), those subjects showed a marked improvement in recall.

The conclusions of this study significantly coincide with a conclusion drawn in a similar study.

Research conducted by David C. Haak, Janneke HilleRisLambers, Emile Pitre, and Scott Freeman of the University of Washington, and published in Science Mag, confirmed that, in addition to using a highly structured course design, subjecting students to repeated problem-solving, practice sessions, and quizzing did substantially improve students’ overall performance.

The practice of frequent testing and quizzing is also the basis of the renowned Carnegie Hall hypothesis. It suggests that, as part of a comprehensive teaching approach including high-level questioning and group work, one way to increase performance of underprepared students is by administering daily or weekly quizzes as enforcement of the principles being studied.

The Results Are In!

Based on this research, the multiple quizzing strategy is believed to be the better of the two options. According to results of the various studies and experiments discussed above, the multiple quizzing strategy can…

  • help to keep students on their toes by encouraging them to always “be prepared.”
  • enable both students and teachers to judge learning progressively, instead of at the end of a milestone.
  • give students the ability to master new information in smaller chunks.
  • encourage taking timely corrective action, such as extra classes, more research, or additional practice, in areas of deficiencies that are revealed by frequent quizzes.
  • require students to review and repeat information from prior lessons, chapters or milestones, which fosters learning and retention.

Or, as a 2009 research paper published by two scholars from the Pennsylvania State University and York College, CUNY, emphatically concludes: Frequent assessment enhances student learning!

How Can CourseArc Help?

As instructional designers, your quizzes must be designed and administered in a manner that will test student comprehension at strategic points during a lesson or course, and aid both their understanding and their long-term retention. You can see examples of multiple choice and true/false quizzes designed in the CourseArc platform — including contextual feedback, which helps students understand not only which answers are correct but why.

Image: “Exam” by AlbertoG via Flickr Creative Commons License