Why frequent, low-stakes, online assessments can help improve student learning and retention.

online-assessments-gymYou may think that comparing online assessments to hitting the gym is an odd comparison—but it’s an accurate one when considering strengthening learning pathways in students’ brains.

Take, for example, the principle of deconditioning. To maintain their physical fitness and endurance, athletes must routinely exercise. Stop exercising and their level of conditioning begins to dramatically decline. Studies have shown, however, that athletes who need to take time off from training can still maintain a level of fitness if they exercise once a week.

Several analogous concepts can apply to student learning. One example is Ebbinghaus’ forgetting curve–the fact that learned knowledge is not durable, but can be lost if not rehearsed. “Time on task” is also recognized as a major factor in learning gains. In general, the more quality, focused time spent on an activity, the better the related learning outcomes.

This raises the question of what counts as “quality” – is there a specific way of spending the time or arranging the time that results in better performance?

(Next page: Spaced repetition and the role of online assessments)


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