How to authentically assess learners’ comprehension in online courses

In face-to-face and online courses, instructors often ask learners to regurgitate what they know on paper as a means of assessment. Multiple-choice tests and essays are great at evaluating someone’s knowledge of facts and figures, but assessing learners’ soft skills and how well they apply their knowledge is more difficult. There is certainly a place for these traditional assessments in education, but the skills employers want from recent graduates are evolving.

A recent report from the Association of American Colleges & Universities found that a majority of employers believe broad learning and cross-cutting skills are the best preparation for long-term career success. Organizations and hiring managers also placed a high priority on graduates’ demonstrated proficiency in skills and knowledge that cut across majors. Some of the college learning outcomes they rated as most important were oral communication, critical thinking, working effectively in teams, and the real-world application of skills and knowledge.

Higher ed institutions inherit much of the burden to ensure learners are job-ready upon graduation, so they must adapt to these changing demands. That means providing more opportunities to develop key soft skills and leveraging tools that provide a more authentic representation of students’ comprehension level. Most colleges and universities have science laboratories, student media organizations, and other immersive experiences on campus for this reason, but online courses face some challenges in this regard.

How can educators facilitate experiential exercises and evaluate the application of knowledge from a distance? Video assessment platforms offer a unique solution.

Show me what you know
Video assessment platforms help instructors evaluate students’ comprehension level more authentically because learners are showing what they know on video. As they complete experiential exercises, students demonstrate skills and knowledge that give an educator more insight into their thought process. Here are some examples of what this workflow could look like.

  • Perform a task: In an online physical therapy course, learners might demonstrate a therapeutic technique on video, based on the treatment plan or symptoms their instructor gives them. As an additional layer to the assignment, an educator could also require the student to explain the “what” and “why” of the physical skill they’re performing. This type of submission not only showcases someone’s knowledge of physical therapy, but also strengthens their communication and critical thinking skills.
  • Practice a real-life scenario: No matter what career someone pursues, they will eventually have to interview for the position they want. Some video assessment platforms allow instructors to replicate the nature of a face-to-face conversation via asynchronous video. Instructors can ask typical interview questions on video and let students practice selling themselves, thinking on the fly, and communicating what they know in a structured, real-world context.
  • Role play activities: Whether they facilitate these exercises in real time or not, instructors can create role play activities where students practice street interactions or other everyday scenarios in a world languages course. Educators might upload prompts of native speakers and have learners respond accordingly, or have two students play each role in a live situation where they converse back and forth. This is a great way to develop communication and collaboration skills.
  • Analyze or respond to a relevant scenario: In a psychology or counseling course, instructors can upload a video of a patient-doctor session and ask students to analyze it. The educator might have them identify certain techniques the therapist or counselor is using and provide additional insight. This is also a good “what’s next” exercise. Students might be required to determine the next steps for this patient in more advanced courses.

There are numerous applications educators can construct using video assessment platforms, but the main takeaway is the insight they receive from these student videos. Learners might be able to recall the information they studied and score well on a paper-based assessment, but this knowledge is often limited to a particular context. When students have to solve a higher-level problem or apply knowledge to a real-life situation, they truly show their depth of understanding on that particular topic. This enables instructors to gather a more authentic representation of what learners understand.

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