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How to Design Effective Tests for e-Learning

Posted by Alan Magnan on 1/24/13 3:00 AM
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Training people through a computer presents a unique set of challenges. Some skills are much harder to teach in an electronic venue. A few examples are sales, negotiation, and customer service. The challenge comes from the following fact: Tests in training should realistically mimic the work people are being trained to perform. Sitting at a computer, with no other human present, makes that realism practically unattainable in e-learning when learning interpersonal skills.

If your e-learning is a virtual classroom session that learners take in small groups, you can still produce realistic exercises and tests; be prepared for some challenges in implementing them, though. You may be using a platform such as WebEx, Adobe Connect, or the like. Asking people to interact with each other to practice a skill through these applications is less intuitive than doing so in person. It might take longer, and learners might be distracted by the software interface being used at the time.

If your e-learning is a tutorial that learners access individually, your options become much narrower. Most e-learning designers end up relying on quizzes as their tests. They use questions such as true-false, multiple choice, matching, re-sequencing, and so on. What they end up with are knowledge tests that can no longer be called practice; the skills part of the tests no longer exists. One way to improve the value of these knowledge-heavy tests is to use situations as the basis for your questions.

Situational questions reproduce the work circumstances relevant to the training. They tell a story and ask the learner to react appropriately. They allow people to decide how the course content applies to the job. Here is an example. If your training was on a new privacy policy implemented at the customer service level, you might see multiple choice questions formulated according to the two below. Question 1 is a pure content-based question. Question 2 is a situational content-based question.

Question 1: Which part of the new privacy policy applies when a customer asks to see another customer’s data?

A. Section 1.3
B. Section 1.5
C. Section 1.7
D. Section 1.8

Question 2: If a customer wanted to order the same model as a friend and asked you to look up that person’s order history, which response would you choose?

A. “Sure, let me look that up and I can tell you everything that your friend has ordered with us.”
B. “I can tell you the model name and number that your friend ordered, but nothing else.”
C. “I can’t share that information with you.”
D. “Our privacy policy doesn’t allow us to share any customer information with others.”

In situational questions, the work context makes the information that much more relevant and applicable. They prepare people for the actual work issues the training was meant to address. In short, they make your quizzes more realistic and less boring. As an added bonus, they are generally easier to write. Simply ask yourself: “How are people supposed to use this information on the job?” and “How can I reproduce those situations in my test?”

What tips do you have for creating better tests in your e-learning tutorials?

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Alan has been a course leader with Langevin since 1996. He studied business administration at Algonquin College of Applied Arts and Technology. Alan’s philosophy on training is that it can be fun, engaging, and active, but that’s just what’s on the surface. Training must also be practical, realistic, and applicable. Alan is a computer geek at heart and enjoys programming and gaming in his spare time. He’s also a great fan of the outdoors during the summer months, and when the winter moves in, you’ll find him reading, or recording and playing music.

Topics: instructional techniques, tips-for-trainers, e-learning

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Our very own world-class course leaders share their experiences, tips, best practices, and expertise on virtual training, instructional design, needs analysis, e-learning, delivery, evaluation, presentation skills, facilitation, and much more!

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