Weighing up the benefits of online testing

There was a time – around the late nineties or early 2000’s, when online learning (or e-learning) experienced a fast and surprising evolution.

Driven primarily by the requirements of higher education institutions and their need to provide students with information that was accessible all of the time, this period of change saw many pundits questioning the employment prospects for human instructors – who they suggested might be irrelevant in a new education environment…



The end of learning as we know it?

As with most apocalyptic predictions, this was not the case.  The machines have not replaced the humans (yet), learners still want to attend high-quality training courses in actual (rather than virtual) classrooms and if anything, teachers and instructors are now busier than they have ever been.

Distance learning is believed to have been pioneered in the 1840’s in the UK by Isaac Pitman’s correspondence course in shorthand.  Whilst this is far removed from the technology of modern Learning Management Systems, it demonstrated that learning and assessment could be managed in new and innovative ways – all driven by committed education professionals.

Online learning and testing does have limitations – particularly when it comes to explaining the nuances of a particular topic, but there are some ways in which online learning systems can be enormously helpful to many of us.

  1. Testing and examinations can be automated.
    Administering testing in a classroom environment can be a challenging task.  The number of students, types of assessments that they are taking, languages and many other things can all create a large administrative burden.  This can be reduced with computer-aided assessments.
  2. The integrity of assessments can be improved.
    With facilities to randomise questions – that mean that the learners cannot know what they will be asked, there is a greater requirement placed on the individual to ensure that they fully understand the subject matter.  It is this requirement that drives up the quality of training and that underpins any qualification.
  3. Online testing can save money.
    The reduction in administration required by online testing (mentioned above), means that for organisations that are regularly providing training and assessments, online testing can work out to be extremely cost efficient.  With most online training and assessment systems now working across all platforms – from smart phones to desktop PCs – the cost of delivering assessments can be reduced.
  4. It’s more difficult to cheat.
    With the constant evolution of education technology including web-based and mobile phone apps, we are able to update and change our tools and methods to help us prevent exam fraud.  From eye-movement tracking, to online identification verification and live streaming exam-room video feeds, online testing can help us all to safeguard the best interests of honest, hardworking learners.

Back to the future…

Face to face learning, taught by an expert instructor, remains the most effective way for us to learn something new.  However, the efforts to find an effective alternative continue…  With recent advances in the technology of virtual and augmented reality, the possibilities for creating immersive simulation training are very exciting.  When coupled with new forms of artificial intelligence, we will soon be entering an amazing new world of training and learning.

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