Multiple choice and true/false questions are the most common forms of eLearning and blended learning assessment, and while these forms absolutely have value, their usefulness is limited to gauging the learner’s ability to comprehend knowledge-based content. Mere knowledge doesn’t necessarily lead to improved performance, however, and there are better assessment methods for identifying actual skills transfer.
Just as not all training is knowledge-based, not all progress can be measured with a question, so instructional designers should choose the most effective method for verifying performance capability. Look past common objective questions to find more creative methods of skills assessment.
Before making any changes, first examine your current strategy. Are you using objective questions as your main type of assessment for a reason, or just because that’s the way it’s always been done? Instructional designers and trainers often use objective questions because they think they're supposed to.
There’s no denying that objective questions are often easier to write; writing them well is another story, but we all know what multiple choice and true/false questions look like. Not to mention, compliance wants to know that learners have taken the training and "passed," and scoring questions with a definite correct answer is just easier. We’re not worried about whether the learning management system can accept scores from these types of questions, so we add a bunch to the end of the module, have it report the score, and it's done. If the learner gets them right, they "know" the content. If they don't, they retake it… over and over, until they pass.
But does correctly picking "C" mean they can actually perform on the job? How many times a day does someone come to your desk and say, "Which of these is the best answer?" That’s not how it works in the real world; most work is skill-based or situational. To know whether learners can competently perform necessary skills or make appropriate decisions in realistic situations, we must give them an opportunity to prove it.
And give your LMS some credit—it can likely track achievement types more complex than a few radio buttons.
Blended Assessment Methods
In the event that there is some basic knowledge that learners must have in order to perform, and you're planning to deliver that via eLearning or required reading, then go ahead and measure with objective questions. But a component of your training strategy likely involves skill building or decision making, so let's try a different method of assessing their accomplishments there.
Try converting multiple choice questions into "What would you do?" questions. Present learners with an everyday scenario—realistic and specific—and then ask the learner how best to proceed. In sales training, you might ask, "What would you say to the customer?" and present 3 or 4 answers that would elicit different responses from the customer. This requires learners to think through how to respond to a customer or situation. The answers can even be programmed as multiple-choice radio buttons, although popup boxes or branching links offer more opportunity for depth of feedback. This method gives learners the opportunity to demonstrate that they know what to do in that situation and that they could recreate that decision on the job.
Another method for eLearning assessment is to create interactive graphics using hotspots, allowing learners to demonstrate they can identify, for example, the correct location on a floorplan or the right button for a desired action. Ask the learner to "click on the right place" or "identify the correct item.” Be creative! Most job skills involve visual components, such as a software interface or a form to fill out, so use the interactivity of eLearning to allow the learner to click something other than a radio button. Most authoring tools still allow you to "score" this interaction.
Here’s a novel idea: have the learner step away from the computer, at least long enough to demonstrate the skill in question to a trainer or a manager. If you have committed to a blended learning curriculum, that means you have a resource available to interact with the learners, so leverage that person for assessments. Here are a few possibilities:
- Draw a diagram of the process, highlighting the steps to be completed
- List or point out (in a physical environment) the best-selling products and key benefits of each
- Explain how skipping a step in the procedure exposes the organization to risk
- Demonstrate how to configure and use a machine to complete the new procedure
- Write and deliver a two-minute pitch on why a person should buy from you
- Ask "What happens if?" questions, and discuss the answers
- Prepare a menu item according to the recipe
Have you ever had to do something like that during or after a training, and had it assessed or evaluated by your manager right after training, as opposed to months later? Remember, adults gain the most from learning when it is realistic and applicable to their daily work. The trainer knows the right answer and can discuss the results with the learner in much more detail than a feedback caption can. And if you're worried about objectivity, provide a checklist to the trainer that is completely neutral: "Learner clicked A," "Learner mentioned B," "Learner forgot to complete Step C," etc.
Create a participant workbook that includes observation questions or discussion points along the way. At certain points during an eLearning, the learner can record answers to questions or identify key points in prompts within the participant guide, then discuss with the trainer after the eLearning to obtain feedback and demonstrate retention. It's not high-tech, but it can help the learner pay attention to the content and prove it to the trainer after they close the eLearning screen.
Don’t Sweat the LMS
You may have worries about recording scores from nontraditional assessment methods in your learning management system, but fret not—it can be done! Most LMS suites these days are equipped for custom learning objects, which can be recorded as a "complete/incomplete," "pass/fail," or just as a note of record. It doesn't have to be a scored test to be recorded, and the rise of Tin Can/xAPI facilitates the recording of all sorts of progress beyond objective quizzes. Work with the LMS administrator to identify the best ways to leverage these tools to effectively track alternative methods of measurement.
At the end of the day, if audience feedback and evaluations prove that objective questions are working, then don't abandon them. Regardless, continue evaluating the effectiveness of your training programs and your learners' mastery, and consider implementing some new methods of measurement to add variety and appeal to learners who may be tired of clicking radio buttons. Whatever path you take to measure learning, take time now and then to try something new and think outside the checkbox.
Brian Ziemba is a senior instructional designer with Caveo Learning. Based in Pittsburgh, Ziemba has over 10 years' experience designing and developing eLearning, instructor-led training, and performance support tools. Prior to joining Caveo, Ziemba worked as a performance consultant with IT firm Five Star Development. He holds an education degree from the University of Pittsburgh.