Assessment in online learning: achieving quality and fitness for purpose

Written by Dr Stephanie Lambert, Online Course Certification System (EOCCS), European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD) Global Network


There are diverse opportunities to challenge oneself to learn something new, or to extend previous knowledge or a skill base through online offerings. Such challenges come in a number of forms and at varying levels of complexity, from practical courses through to academic courses, all the way up to obtaining a PhD. For example; MOOCs, corporate training and simulations are designed to test undergraduate students on through to established professionals.


What are we able to assess in online learning: knowledge, skills, behaviours? And how can we use the capabilities associated with online learning to enhance this process, to test students appropriately, and to ensure that intended learning outcomes (ILOs) are achieved?


In this article, experiences and cases from EOCCS-certified institutions will be shared based on approaches to how learners are assessed through a range of online courses. EOCCS aims at bringing quality to online learning. EFMD Global Network has taken the initiative to develop a certification system for ensuring high quality in online courses within the field of management and business education. Institutions must demonstrate that they follow standards related to institutional context, course design, delivery and operations, as well as quality assurance and improvement processes.


Assessment methods used in online learning should be aligned with the ILOs of the offering and should relate to the individual participant’s own work and ability. Assessment methods can be formative or summative depending on ILOs and should provide direct or indirect measurements of achievement.


Assessments in online learning don’t necessarily have to differ from those provided in face-to-face courses, and in a number of cases students are still required to attend an examination in person at a prearranged location. Such approaches can help to mitigate plagiarism issues, but may not suit the needs of students in remote locations; those who are unable to commit to future dates; or those who simply want to remain flexible and be assessed in the same way as they study.


Videovivas are an example of how face-to-face methods can be simply adapted to the online learning landscape. For smaller courses with a more personal approach to learning, vivas can be used to not only assess the competence of the student and their achievement of ILOs, but also to verify the identity of the students and ensure they are responsible for submitting any prior assignments (such as written essays).


Technology-enhanced learning can drive and inspire innovative technology-enhanced methods of assessment to measure whether a student has met ILOs. For instance, a number of simple automated online quizzes based on multiple-choice questions could measure a student’s knowledge in any given topic, or pass as a prerequisite to completing a more complex assessment. In terms of formative assessment, in cases where students are not meeting expectations, this method can also offer the tutor and learner a way to monitor progress or identify potential weaknesses in course materials.


This is commonplace for massive open online courses (MOOCs). Because of the large number of learners, the measure of achievement of ILOs is often through automated quizzes or other methods such as self-report on discussion boards and peer-assessment activities. The former can measure ILOs associated with transactional learning and basic understanding and grasping of theory, whilst the latter can provide an experiential dimension to learning and consideration of different points of view in forming knowledge.


The role of experiential, reflective, and peer-to-peer learning has a strong foothold in online Business and Management courses. Interacting and collaborating with other students on the course can encourage engagement with materials on a reflective level. For example, some courses assess students via blogging exercises or through their participation in online discussions forums. Students can be awarded credit for comments that are constructive or critical, or further probe the subject matter and incite discussion. This requires some moderation from faculty, and sometimes course tutors can be employed to keep conversation flowing and on track. This is a summative assessment method that has been used in a number of courses certified by EOCCS; it can measure ILOs in regard to reflection, application, and understanding.


Simulations are an exemplary method of assessment of ILOs related to skills and behavioural development over a course. Simulations have been designed to both teach and assess students in the application of theory beyond the accumulation of knowledge. Business cases can provide a great basis for simulations in topics such as pricing and managing financial portfolios in both academic and corporate learning. There are examples from EOCCS- certified institutions in which students are required to do this independently or in groups, again based on ILOs. Corporate environments may stipulate that their students should be able to work in groups, as they would in a work setting.


These accounts of assessment of online learning are just the tip of the iceberg; they beg further questions around the role of feedback and the way in which assessment enhances the student learning experience. Indeed, there are numerous courses that do not require any form of assessment. There is certainly no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to assessing students participating in online learning – each different form of e-learning will have very different requirements for achieving legitimate and fair assessment.


EFMD GN Online Course Certification System (EOCCS) is an international online course certification system designed to evaluate the quality of online business and/or management-related courses that either stand-alone or constitute part of a certificate or programme.  EOCCS also aims to build a learning community where best practice is shared among peers in order to improve methods and approaches to online learning.

2 Responses

  1. Jacques LeCavalier

    These programme preview items are great, but they could be more useful. First, some are in English and some are in German, which is problematic for those who don’t speak both. Secondly, the links to the OEB agenda do not work. If these aspects can be fixed, this preview will be even more useful. Thanks! JL

    • Andrea Ulbrich

      Thank you for pointing out that the link did not work. We corrected it.
      All our OEB-articles are in english.


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