Pedagogical models for assessment in online education build on earlier frameworks for evaluating teaching in traditional courses. The field of online teaching has yet, however, to develop a consensus of foundational studies and general principles to guide assessment. Some experts apply guidelines from the “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education” or other educational philosophies to measure the success of online learning outcomes and teaching practices. Studies recommend that assessment take place as an ongoing process which evaluates student achievement in daily learning tasks such as online discussion.

In this type of “formative assessment,” instructors and students are given the opportunity to modify teaching and learning strategies in response to individualized feedback. Formative (or continuous) assessment in a web-based course can be structured by an online management system which provides individual and aggregate scores or records of student activity. The nature of the online learning environment facilitates clear and immediate feedback, and early indications suggest that virtual feedback may be more effective than traditional methods. Other types of evaluation, such as self, team/peer, authentic, and summative assessment, are similarly recommended in online courses. Studies indicate that students benefit from self-assessment in which online tools provide pre-tests or measures of knowledge or content mastery.  

Online learning goals are also supported by “authentic assessment” strategies, in which the instructor measures learner achievement on a range of tasks. Electronic portfolios (or “e-portfolios”) contain a selection of student work based on criteria outlined in the course or by the instructor. Assessment e-portfolios are usually composed of digital artifacts which represent student learning or achievement, and may also include self-reflection exercises and peer contributions. E-portfolios are thought to be effective tools for measuring the success of student learning outcomes in online courses.

Assessing online courses draws on the same theories and techniques developed for the face-to-face learning environment. For more information about assessment strategies, please visit our Assessment page.