eLearning Design: Start with the Assessment!

Posted By Doug Peterson

I would venture to guess that many elearning designers/developers start designing their new elearning course “at the beginning” – they start writing content and gathering illustrations, then maybe work in some delivery considerations, go through the review and sign-off procedures … and only at the very end do they remember, “Oh, yeah, I should probably have some sort of quiz or test.”

Dr. Jane Bozarth is an accomplished elearning designer and developer, and her latest article in Learning Solutions Magazine is called Nuts and Bolts: The 10-Minute Instructional Design Degree. In her article she recognizes that a lot of elearning designers and developers come from other disciplines and may not have much formal training when it comes to elearning, so she provides eight recommendations for designing and developing the best elearning possible.

Her #1 recommendation? Design assessments first. Jane writes:

Too often we create assessments and tests as an afterthought, in a scramble after the training program is essentially otherwise complete. The result? Usually, it’s a pile of badly written multiple-choice questions. When approaching a project, ask: “What is it you want people to do back on the job?” Then, “What does successful performance look like?” “How will you measure that?” Design that assessment first. Then design the instruction that leads to that goal.

For example, I used to support the call center agent training for a large telecommunications company. It was important that the agents come out of the training with an understanding of the software applications they would be using at their station – not just the correct values for certain fields, but an understanding of the application itself, including how to log in, how to navigate, which fields were mandatory and which were not, etc. Therefore we knew we had to include software simulation questions in our assessments (something that can be done amazingly well with Flash in Questionmark Perception), which in turn meant that we knew we had to include simulations in our training.

Does this mean that your elearning will be “teaching to the test?” Some people might see it that way, but I would suggest that since the test reflects the desired behaviors back on the job, teaching to that test is not a bad thing. And by working backwards from the specific desired behaviors and the assessment of those behaviors, your training will be very focused on just what is needed.

2 Responses to eLearning Design: Start with the Assessment!

  1. Sankar says:

    Every learning material addresses a set of concepts. It is finite and bounded. A test to present is quite good provided the various design alternatives are taken into account. At the end of this walkthrough of such an process definitely shapes the learner to the required and known endpoints envisaged by the elearning material by itself.
    Coming to your question of, “teaching to test”, I disagree with the idea that all knowledge that encompass and addressed will be possible with available degrees of freedom called ’10 minutes’. It will definitely address a set of concepts among the ‘finite and bounded’.

  2. David Glow says:

    Cathy Moore has a wonderful, free, slideshare presentation on this design, for you to become Action Mapping Hero.

    She clearly puts a strategic business goal at the center of the design, and the behaviors that employees will PERFORM to drive the goal, learning professionals design experiences (assessments) to build and check the skill, and you ensure that your provide the information required to perform- no more, no less.

    That’s not teaching to a test, that’s focusing on what matters to performance.

    Don’t hand me a 16 page manual describing all the features of the fire extinguisher- that sticker with the 3 steps of how to aim and get that foam on the fire does just fine. No extra filler, please.

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