Does online learning and assessment help sustainability?

John Kleeman HeadshotPosted by John Kleeman

Encouraged by public interest and increasing statutory controls, most large organizations care about and report on environmental sustainability and greenhouse gas emissions. I’ve been wondering how much online assessments and the wider use of e-learning help sustainability. Does taking assessments and learning online contribute to the planet’s well-being?

Does using computers instead of paper save trees?Picture of trees, part cut down

It’s easy to see that by taking exams on computer, we save a lot of paper. Trees vary in size, but it seems the average tree might make about 50,000 pages of paper. If a typical paper test uses 10 pages of paper, then an organization that delivers 100,000 tests per year is using 20 trees a year. Or suppose a piece of learning material is 100 pages is distributed to 10,000 learners. The 20 trees cut down for that learning would be saved if the learning were delivered online.

These are useful benefits, but they need to be set against the environmental costs of the computers and electricity used. The environmental benefit is probably modest.

What about the benefits of reduced business travel?

A much stronger environmental case might be made around reduced travel. Taking a test on paper and/or in a test center likely means travelling. So we’re not surprised to be seeing increased use of online proctoring. For example, SAP are starting to use it for their certification exams. Online proctoring means that a candidate doesn’t have to travel to a test center but can take an exam from their home or office. This saves time and money. It also eliminates the environmental costs of  travel. Learning online rather than going to a classroom does the same.

Training and assessment are only a small reason for business travel, but the overall environmental impact of business travel is imagehuge.  One large services company has reported that 67 percent of their carbon footprint in 2014 was related to it. Another  indicates that cost at over 30 percent.. Many large companies have internal targets to reduce business travel greenhouse gas emissions.

In the academic world, the Open University in the UK performed a study a few years back on the carbon benefits of their model of distance learning compared with more conventional university education. The study suggested that carbon emissions were 85 percent lower with distance education compared with a more conventional university approach. However, the benefit of electronic delivery rather than paper delivery in distance learning was more modest at 12 percent, partly because students often print the e-learning materials. This suggests that there is a very substantial benefit in distance learning and a smaller benefit in it being electronic rather than paper-based.

The strongest benefit of online assessment is that it  gives accurate information about people’s knowledge, skills and abilities to help organizations make good decisions. But it does seem that there may well also be a useful environmental benefit too.

Questionmark Conference Close-up: Making Assessments Accessible

Posted by Joan Phaup

John Kleeman

Making Your Assessments Accessible and Available to All will be presented by Performance Solutions Specialist Cheryl Johnson and Questionmark Chairman John Kleeman during the Questionmark Users Conference March 14 – 17 in Miami. Cheryl brings a strong commitment to accessibility and usability to her work as an instructional designer as well as a trainer. She has been inspired by seeing how technology can dramatically expand opportunities for individuals with disabilities. I am looking forward to seeing Cheryl at the conference and would like to share my recent conversation with her:

Q: Could you tell me about your work as an instructional designer?

Cheryl Johnsoon

A: I’ve been involved with many  corporate and government training programs over the years. Although I have developed some instructor-led training, I’ve worked primarily on elearning. Lately I’ve been moving into social learning, mobile learning, high-level simulations, and gaming.

Q: Let’s talk specifically about the subject of accessibility: could you discuss your experience with that?

A: In the mid-nineties I started training people to use assistive technologies. That was before assistive technology was really considered a productivity tool. Back then it was only about making information and technology accessible to people. There really were no tutorials or any good training out there, so I started writing my own training with the motivation of reducing the amount of tech support I had to provide to the people I’d trained! A few years later I was living in Utah and often had to train people remotely. My learners were primarily vocational rehabilitation clients, and sometimes I would  be training just one person at a time. It was not cost-effective for me to drive long distances to train one person. I worked with a colleague to develop what would have been called in those days a “distance learning” program to help people use voice recognition technology effectively.  He went on to patent the technology, called VoiceWindows (, as an online tutorial. It is a tutorial on voice recognition technology and its use with various software applications.  In addition there are many macros built into it to increase productivity when using voice recognition technology. I have also trained many quadriplegics and have seen the huge impact technology could have on the quality of their lives, in some cases opening up work opportunities. Technology can open up a lot of possibilities and help make people be more productive both inside and outside the workplace.

Q: What are the key things people involved with assessment need to know about accessibility?

A: It calls for being creative and thinking differently about things. When I teach classes on accessibility I explain some rules: things like 508 compliance and the various standards people need to meet. But people get frustrated because they don’t know how to meet those requirements using what they have. Section 508 compliance really is just the basic standard. It’s more about making sure  the person can access that information rather than whether is it really usable. I try to focus on helping people make information and technology usable as well as accessible. There are no written rules out there for doing that, so creativity is key. I recommend that when organizations are designing assessments or learning materials, they have people who use the technology on the design team from the very beginning. They know their technology. They know how things work. And they can suggest alternative ways of achieving something. That might mean taking a hot spot question, which would require the use of a mouse, and making text links for the hot spot areas so that someone who’s unable to use a mouse can answer the same question using a keyboard.

Q: What do you hope people will take away from your presentation?

A: An understanding of how important it is to make sure that people who use assistive technology are part of their design team. A realization that quite often people who use assistive technology are sometimes novice users and need clear direction and instructions in using it for a particular application—for example a  particular assessment that you have adapted for their use. People with disabilities like to use interactive tools and want as rich a learning and assessment experience as everyone else.  And of course,  enthusiasm for finding creative ways to make assessments more enjoyable, usable and effective for everyone. John will be showing how Questionmark Perception addresses accessibility and usability issues. He’ll be covering what you have to do to make your assessments in Perception accessible, so that will be a major takeaway, too!

Q: What are you looking forward to at the Questionmark Users Conference?

A: I’m excited to meet people who want to make high quality learning and assessment available to everyone. That’s exciting to me, because I’ve spent many years fighting that battle! I also have to admit I’m looking forward to the cruise on Tuesday night!

Join Cheryl, John and our many other presenters for three days of learning and networking. Check out the conference program and register today!

Into the third decade of Internet assessment

john_smallPosted by John Kleeman

As I take stock of the past year and look forward to the next, I’m doing so with great appreciation for all of Questionmark’s customers and users and for all my colleagues. I’d like to extend my best wishes to everyone for 2010.

I’m looking forward to the New Year as the start of a decade that promises to be an exciting one in which to work.There should be some amazing new developments during the 2010s as the Internet—which I regard as the third great invention of humankind—continues to transform assessment!

I’d suggest the first great invention was writing, allowing people to store information and knowledge and pass it on to others. Before writing, information could only be transferred by songs and ballads, or one person’s advice to another. Once writing was invented, knowledge could be written and stored, and more complex societies could start to form.

The next great invention was the printing press. Books and knowledge were not just restricted to the rich or the learned but could be communicated to all. Access to information and ideas became much easier, and this led in time to equality and freedom and our modern world.

The Internet, by bringing everyone together irrespective of geography and allowing the synergy of the crowd, rather than just from the writer to the reader, is transforming the world and society.  These are exciting and interesting times to be living and working. We don’t yet know where the Internet will take us, but it already is changing our world and bringing it together.

Working in the field of assessment, we are fortunate to be enablers for the Internet revolution. The Internet means that knowledge, learning and ideas spread faster than ever before, and we are freed from the constraints of geography. You can read this blog entry from Kansas to Karachi, at the time you want. And you can comment on it, tweet it, or ignore it and move to something better, all in just a few keystrokes.

Assessment contributes to the Internet and the Internet contributes to assessment. The Internet is about learning and assessment is the cornerstone of learning: it diagnoses what you know and need to learn, helps confirm what you have learned and helps personalize your learning path.  The promise of the Internet is that a child in the furthest corner of the world can learn from the greatest teacher, and that the potential of everyone in the world can be fulfilled. By effective use of surveys, quizzes, tests and exams, we can be part of making this happening.

The Internet also contributes to making assessment better. From online item writing workshops and item review with tools such as Questionmark Live, to delivery over the Internet and on mobile devices, and to passing and confirming assessment results online, the Internet changes every part of assessment. And this can only change and change for the better as the technology becomes more reliable and the demands for global assessment increase.

The 1990s saw the beginnings of Internet assessment (with Questionmark proud to have produced the first Internet assessment product in 1995) and the 2000s have seen Internet assessment become widespread and useful. Questionmark has an exciting announcement to make about a new version of our software in January 2010 that will make mobile assessments and assessments in frames within wikis, blogs and portals much, much easier. With news like that for starters, the 2010s look a very exciting time for Internet assessment.