This chapter introduces a number of methods and tips for assessing learners.

Tests

Tests are mainly for checking a person's knowledge. Tests can have different purposes:

  • To demonstrate that a person possesses the knowledge required by the curriculum.
  • To provide the trainer and learner with information about whether the delivered information has been understood correctly.
  • To identify information gaps that still exist.

The trainer should consider whether the test should include questions/tasks that ask the learner to apply his/her knowledge and not just to reproduce information.

A feasible way to assess a course's effectiveness is to ask participants to fill in the same test before and after the course, thus providing information about the increase of knowledge and/or change of attitudes.

Feed back form

Feed back forms are the most common way for getting response from the participants. A major drawback is that most people fill in the form formally without putting much thought into the responses. Feed back forms are therefore most appropriate for obtaining a quick insight or if the responses are required for other purposes such as statistics or reports. If the trainer is interested in obtaining more in-depth feed back from the learners, there are better alternatives, for example, "Unfinished sentences".

Various free tools for creating questionnaires can be found online. Creating a feed back form and requesting from the participants to fill it in within a certain time frame can serve as a means to create links between the course and the learners' lives. Furthermore, the respondent will have had time to "digest" the course and provide more relevant responses. Another advantage is that an online form is more convenient to fill in than one that must be filled in by hand; in addition, it is much easier for the trainer/organiser to collect and analyse data from an online form.

Learning diary

A learning diary allows for the collection of information about one's actions over a longer period of time. In the diary the learner documents his/her personal and professional development, identifies questions or problem situations, gathers best practices, analysis decisions that were taken in different situations, etc.

It can be helpful to offer a more formalised approach - for example, the trainer can allocate time slots when participants must write in their diaries - in order to provide the learners with structure and in order to ensure that the learning diary is indeed updated on a regular basis.

Interviews

Interviews are probably the most effective way of receiving feed back. An interview should be carefully planned, drawing attention to what one wants to learn and what questions will help accomplish this. During the interview one should remember that the interviewee is talking about his/her experiences and perceptions; the interviewer's responsibility is to listen carefully and try to understand (See "Feed back principles").

Moment of reflection

It is not always necessary to use a formal assessment method; often the trainer can get a sufficient idea of what is going on in the group through a non-formal question or short discussion during the course: "How do you feel about this?", "What percent of what you need to know about this topic have you learned by now?", or "What are your suggestions for getting the most out of the remaining course?"

Building inroads into the learners' life

A major shortcoming of most adult education courses is that trainers and organisers have limited possibilities to know how participants make use of acquired knowledge and skills in real-life situations and cannot offer support in addressing knowledge gaps or overcoming challenges that occur in practice. Ideally, the relationship between the trainers and participants is extended beyond the face-to-face learning, for example, by follow-up meetings, in which participants can present their progress and ask for help regarding problems they face. In practice, however, this is often not feasible because of costs and logistical problems. There are, however, still a number of things that trainers can do to build inroads into the learners' lives:

  • Homework: The trainer can invite the learners to actively reflect on how they apply gained knowledge and skills in practice, for example, by introducing learning diaries in which the learners document what they do, what works, and what does not work.
  • Being available: Trainers can stress that learners should feel free to contact them after the end of the course to answer any questions and provide support in overcoming challenges.
  • Reminders: Trainers or organisers can send out reminders after some time has elapsed in which they once again highlight key aspects of the course. A variation to this is "Letter to myself".
  • Providing resources: The trainer can equip the learners with adequate sources for self-learning. The Internet offers vast materials for such learning; YouTube, for example, offers practical instructions on nearly every topic.
  • Making use of information and communication technologies: Though Internet access is not yet available to everyone, the situation is changing quickly. Practice shows that a combination of traditional face-to-face learning with the use of Internet-based tools (blended learning) provides enormous potential for making learning sustainable and more effective. These solutions do not have to be expensive or complex. There are various tools available that are easy to use and freely available, for example, Google offers a full suite of products that can be used for sharing and discussing information. You might want to have a look at Google Groups (www.groups.google.com)] as an online forum or Google Docs (www.docs.google.com) for creating online questionnaires. A great advantage of using such tools is that they allow for two-way communication in which learners can share their expertise and exchange ideas among themselves. Another advantage is that text-based information can easily be complimented with photos, video, or audio material.


Articles in this Section