Performance Assessment in eLearning: What eLearning Professionals Should Know

Performance Assessment in eLearning: What eLearning Professionals Should Know

A learning experience is only worthwhile if it gives learners tools and skills they can use in the real world. In this article, I'll discuss the characteristics of performance assessment, present 3 different types of performance assessment, and share 4 tips for using performance assessment in eLearning to ensure that your learners are able to apply knowledge both in and out of the virtual learning environment.

Performance Assessment in eLearning

Performance assessment determines a learner’s level of mastery and proficiency when completing “authentic” processes, problems, or tasks. Learners must utilize a diverse range of skills and their pre-existing knowledge base to tackle the challenge on their own, and prove that they are able to apply previously learned information in real world environments. For example, corporate learners might be asked to complete a task using the point of sale to determine whether they have the knowledge and skills it takes to operate the system.

A performance assessment can also include a “finished product” which students must develop and display to their peers. Essentially, this form of assessment determines how well learners can apply the information they have acquired, rather than how much information they have acquired.

Marc Chun, an Education Program Officer at the Hewlett Foundation, highlighted 5 key attributes of an effective performance task [1]:

1. The student must participate in a real-world scenario that features a problem, challenge, or situation they would encounter in realistic environments.

2. The performance task must involve an authentic process which accurately reflects the complexity and ambiguity of challenges they would face in the real world.

3. Each task must require higher-order thinking, such as critical thinking and analytic reasoning skills, to solve the problem or overcome the challenge.

4. The finished product or outcome of the task must genuinely reflect what the individual would produce in real life settings.

5. The evaluation process or criteria must be fully transparent. All learning objectives, goals, and desired outcomes should be addressed in advance.

3 Types of Performance Assessment

The three types of performance assessment below incorporate Chun’s key attributes for effectiveness.

1. Online Portfolios.
Throughout the eLearning course, learners collect their best performance-based examples, which are then evaluated at the end of the eLearning course. Learners are encouraged to provide feedback and insight for each piece. For example, they might identify skill sets that need to be developed in order to improve the outcome.

2. Online collaboration projects.
Learners work together to create a website, and online presentation, or any other online project that showcases their skills and knowledge mastery. For more advanced learners, you can even ask them to create their own branching scenarios that their peers must complete.

3. Online Simulations.
Learners participate in a virtual scenario that centers on a real-world challenge or situation. They must apply their knowledge and skill sets to navigate through the simulation and achieve the desired outcome.

4 Tips to Use Performance Assessment in eLearning

Now that you know what performance assessment is—and a few different types—keep these 4 tips in mind as you draft your assessment strategy.

1. Create a mission statement.
Before your learners begin a performance assessment in eLearning, they must have a clear idea of why they are being evaluated. Create a mission statement to help them understand the evaluation methods and eLearning goals. Your mission statement should answer these questions:

• What is the purpose of the performance assessment—what specific skills will be evaluated?

• What is expected of learners?

• What should your learners know at this point?

Be as specific as possible so that both you and your learners know exactly what you are looking for and how you will be monitoring learners’ progress.

2. Context is key.
The most important aspect of a performance assessment in eLearning is that it must be authentic. Simply asking your learners to complete a task or online scenario is not enough. The learners must apply their skills and information from the course in order to complete the online task, as they would in the real world. You are preparing them for the world outside the virtual classroom, and a performance assessment lets you know if they are ready to take on the challenges that await.

3. Develop a specific set of criteria.
Successful performance assessment in eLearning has a pre-determined set of criteria that is the same for each member of your audience. This puts every learner on equal ground and gives learners the opportunity to evaluate their progress at various stages of the eLearning course. Explain what specific elements of the task will you be examining, and how much weight each element will carry in terms of overall score. For example, if the eLearning course’s primary goal was to develop a particular skill set, this would be your main focus in the assessment, and all other elements would be secondary. You can also ask your learners to take part in the criteria development process, so that they are able to identify what skills or information they think are vital.

4. Develop performance assessment that requires a broad range of skills.
One of the most significant advantages of using performance assessment in eLearning is that you have the opportunity to evaluate a wide range of skills. The most realistic assessments require your learners to utilize multiple skills and pieces of information to tackle challenges. Performance assessment in eLearning encourages them to combine their skills, talents, and abilities in order to achieve a favorable outcome, and you can evaluate this process in real-time. Rather than just asking them a series of questions or asking them to outline in writing the process they would use, you get to see it in action, such as through an online collaboration project like the group presentation or website suggested earlier. This results in more accurate and effective feedback and evaluation because you are able to monitor how they apply knowledge and use their skills to navigate every step of the task. One of the most significant advantages of performance assessment in eLearning is that it can be used to assess any online course. Whether it's mastering a task or applying knowledge to solve real world problems, performance assessment can be a powerful and versatile tool to evaluate the ROI of your eLearning content.

Bonus performance assessment tip:
Online simulations with branching scenarios are one of the most effective ways to assess the performance of your online learners. Read the article Effective Branching Scenarios In eLearning: 5 Tips For eLearning Professionals to discover the 5 tips that can help you develop effective eLearning scenarios for your audience.


Performance Task Assessment and Teaching: Learning from Chun and CLA/CWRA