Quick Tips for Online Assessments

As you design the content of your course, you’ll think a lot about assessment methods. Online assessments and assignments should take into consideration the their online audience, which is typically a population of adult learners. Experts in the field of adult learning recommend the inclusion of real-world and real-work problems that complement the learning content. Adult learning draws from learners’ experiences so they go from what they know to what they don’t know. Assessments should also encourage decision-making, problem solving, formulation of inferences and calculation of plausibility. Adults learn from applied experience as related to content and theory.

Quick Tips

  1. Include specific instructions. Think about the types of questions that arise in face-to-face classes regarding assignments, and proactively address any potential questions with explicit instructions.
  2. Utilize (or allow students to utilize) pre-existing forms, formats, or protocols. Application assignments should mirror professional practice, so either provide guidelines for producing professional-type papers, reports, projects, etc., or encourage students to emulate those used in their current workplace.
  3. Use a scoring rubric. You will be more likely to get the types of submissions you expect if your scoring rubric is specific, including levels of performance.
  4. Give students a schedule for when they will receive feedback/grades for their assignments. They will be anxious for such information, so be proactive in providing a timeline that is comfortable for you. Keep in mind that the best situation is for students to receive feedback for one assignment before needing to submit another.
  5. Encourage or require students to cite resources (either from the course materials or from external sources) to support their statements.
  6. Provide opportunities for students to critique each other’s work on major assignments before submission for grading. Be certain to establish “ground rules” to keep the critiquing environment “friendly.” For example, require them to use the grading rubric to provide two specific positive comment and one specific suggestion on another student’s work.
  7. Use the discussion board or social media as an environment for students to work together to produce a group project or product.
  8. Consider providing exemplary samples of past students’ work to help students know what is expected.
  9. If students are to produce a major culminating work such as a project or portfolio, “scaffold” their work by dividing the assignment into sections and require them to submit drafts (at least) of one section each week. This will keep them on track time-wise, and allow you to determine if they fully understand the expectations. Also, if you have already reviewed the drafts and provided some feedback, you need only review the final submission of the entire assignment for completion and for incorporation of your feedback. 
woman looking up into data cloud while using laptop

Learn More about Online Asessments

Keep assignments "real!"

Adults appreciate the opportunity to apply their learning to work-based experiences or simulations. 


Knowles, M., Holton, E., & Swanson, R. (1998). The Adult Learner. 5th edition. Texas: Gulf Publishing.

Palloff, R. and Pratt, K. (2009). Assessing the Online Learner: Resources and Strategies for Faculty. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.