6.1 Why assess an open online course?

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Figure 1 From learning to credential.

Choosing whether to use some kind of assessment method in your course ideally needs to be considered in the early stages of learning design – it is linked to the purpose of the course, its potential audience, what different learner motivations might be for studying the course and what learners might expect to achieve as a result. It is also linked to your reasons for creating the course and the choice of topic. You might only want to provide the course as a bite sized piece of knowledge about a topic which people may or may not engage with if they come across it in a web search and therefore assessment may not be required. You may want to integrate some informal assessment activities as part of the pedagogy, or you might want to give people a chance to provide evidence to others of what they’ve learned as a result of working through the material. If any kind of evidence is needed then some sort of assessment method is required and the evidence of their learning is more likely to be taken seriously by employers or colleagues, even if the course is informal and not accredited or is not part of a recognised programme of study.

Deciding on type of assessment and the difficulty level is your next decision. You can add or change the assessment components of the course as it grows, however having assessment options in your thinking when you have decided to include it is recommended.

Open online courses which do not have a tutor or moderator helping to guide learners through material or marking essays have some limitations on how assessment can be used, so your learning design will need to take this into account. However, well designed online assessment activities such as polls, quizzes, questionnaires, reflective exercises and self assessment questions can provide really effective consolidation and evidence of learning – providing learners a way of checking their understanding. This can be tracked and recorded by a course hosting platform leading to the award of digital badges or a certificate (on OpenLearn and OpenLearn Create this is called a Statement of Participation).

6.2 Formative and summative assessment