Lesson 1

Lesson 2

Lesson 3

Lesson 4

Lesson 5



Creating Distance Learning Courses

Lesson Five
Using Technology to Assess Learning


In this lesson you will be exploring the assessment of distance learners, including purposes, methods, and special considerations. You'll also be using the Catalyst tool WebQ for generating electronic tests and quizzes.


When you finish this lesson, you will be able to:

  • Enumerate the unique considerations of assessing distance learners;
  • Prepare a test preparation lesson; and
  • Access and use the Catalyst online assessment tool WebQ.

Meauring Student Understanding

How will you determine whether your learning objectives have been met? You'll need to ask learners to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in some reasonable way. This performance process is known as assessment, which includes testing, evaluation, and grading.

"The act of administering a test (any type of event that requires that someone demonstrates some aspect of knowledge or skill) is assessment. The process of assessment occurs to determine the degree of specific knowledge or skill through measurement. So when we're talking about assessment, we're talking about the process of measuring knowledge or skill. When we're talking about evaluation, what we're talking about is how a particular measurement compares to some standard, which may or may not be clearly articulated... A grade is merely a label — which may or may not be accompanied by explanatory criteria — representing a given evaluation. A grade is intended to communicate how well a learner has performed, most typically in comparison to someone or something else."
Linda Ross, Instructor, Distance Learning Assessment and Evaluation

Purposes of Assessment

Burn and Payment state in Assessments A to Z that you can assess learners before, during, or after an educational experience. Assessments before instruction help you determine what learners already know about a topic, gauge their incoming skills, measure their attitudes toward the subject, and discover what most needs to be learned. Pre-assessments can also pique learner interest in the subject. Assessments at the start of a course engage the attention and enthusiasm of learners, introduce them to the topic, and generate discussion. Assessments during the course add variety to course activities, provide transition between topics, measure progress, provide opportunities to integrate new knowledge into daily life, and reinforce learning with practice. Assessments at the course end measure achievement of the learning objectives and reinforce learning. Assessment at any of these stages is appropriate in distance learning.

Challenges of Assessing at a Distance

People learning independently are often anxious about how they are doing, particularly if they are new to this kind of educational environment. They need frequent and thorough feedback on their progress to maintain their momentum and gauge their learning. You will need to include numerous assessments, both formal - such as exams, and informal - such as discussion assignments, to minimize this anxiety and assist learners in gauging their individual progress.

Credit or credentialing requirements in your field may dictate that the identity and skills of specific learners be confirmed in person. In this case, you may need to arrange for in-person demonstrations of learning such as proctored examinations. A proctored exam is a supervised exam in which either you or the learner identifies an appropriate person and place to administer the test. This place could be distant from you but local to the learner. Some organizations provide proctoring services for a fee.

The nature of your subject may make assessment at a distance challenging. Many instructors feel that human relations, or "soft skills", such as the ability to resolve problems, coach, sell, or present at meetings, are more effectively taught in person and assessed by direct observation. Some assessment activities are also more difficult with current technology, including laboratory exercises, simulations, and role plays.


Go back to learning objectives for the course as stated in the course introduction. These objectives focus on what the learner will know or be able to do as a result of the course. They provide “milestones” to guide learners through the course materials. Learners need to know how assessments in your course relate to these goals. Every objective should be assessed in some way, and nothing outside the objectives.

Examinations and Quizzes

“First of all, what is a test? A test is any type of event that requires that someone (or something) demonstrates some aspect of knowledge or skill. A test can have one item or many items, but all tests require some form of demonstration. A test itself is a tool—more specifically, a measurement tool. Therefore, the purpose of a test is the measurement of knowledge or skill.”
Linda Ross, Instructor, Distance Learning Assessment and Evaluation

As in the classroom, quizzes and exams prepared for distance learners are designed to allow them to demonstrate what they have learned in your course while giving them additional opportunities for learning. But you will need to provide distant learners with more support in preparing for these assessments, including exam preparation lessons.

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