Before beginning my journey as an learning experience designer, I was a teacher for many years. Shortly before I left the profession, the big, exciting idea surrounding assessment and evaluation was the triple threat of Assessment as Learning (AaL), Assessment for Learning (AfL), and Assessment of Learning (AoL).
Most teachers, especially those who had been working with the former formative/summative assessment model didn’t really like the AaL/AfL/AoL model. I, on the other hand, loved the model. Not only does it include the concepts of formative and summative assessment, but it also brings in the idea of metacognition. Research has shown that learners with strong metacognition skills (i.e., they very aware of their own personal methods and preferences of learning) are more successful in school.
My love for this model is so strong that even as a learning experience designer, I continue to use it to craft my assessments. So, how does it work? Well, it’s based on three different types of assessment, each with it’s own purpose.
Let’s start with the one that is the most common, and therefore the easiest to understand.
Assessment of Learning (AoL)
AoL is a formal assessment of what a learner has learned by the conclusion of the chapter, module, or course, etc. This is often in the form of a test or exam. Behavioural-based courses may also use a marked branching scenario for the AoL. At the primary or secondary school level, it could also be some sort of project or presentation.
In the teaching world, AoL is also known as evaluation (note this is different than the term evaluation in the instructional design world). It is also known as summative assessment in the former formative/summative assessment model.
Assessment for Learning (AfL)
AfL is a less formal (or entirely informal) assessment of what a learner has learned from an individual topic or task. This type of assessment is either unmarked (contains only feedback), or a mark is given simply for the learner’s own knowledge – but it does not count toward a final grade score. This is often in the form of a quiz or game.
As you might have noticed from the name, the focus of AfL is on the process of learning. Assessment is (or at least should be) strongly tied in with the learning process. The AfL step helps learners identify their strengths and weaknesses, and it ultimately helps the learners focus on what they need to know to succeed.
AfL is also known as formative assessment in the former formative/summative assessment model. In the instructional design world, this is sometimes known as a knowledge check.
Assessment as Learning (AaL)
AaL is where the metacognition piece comes in. Just like the AfL, AaL has a strong focus on the process of learning. These types of assessments are not marked, but instead provide the learner with information about how they are progressing. This allows the learner to make their own personal evaluation about their knowledge and whether they are ready to move on to new content, or if they need to revisit what they have just learned.
In this case, feedback is crucial – in particular, immediate and personalized feedback. This is because the learner is basing their personal evaluation of their knowledge on the feedback provided to them. Having to wait to finish an entire quiz before finding out if they were correct on question number one is not effective. Similarly, receiving general feedback that doesn’t address their own issues is not effective.
In addition to immediate and personalized feedback, an important aspect of AaL is the frequency of use. AaL is most effective when it is used regularly. For example, following each topic. This helps the learner build competency and confidence when they are progressing well. Additionally, it helps learners target in quickly on their weaknesses when they are getting stuck.
A final important aspect of AaL is the ‘how’. Without asking learners how they know what they know, you are missing the valuable metacognition piece. Ideally, AaL will engage learners in the learning process by helping them understand where their thoughts and assumptions come from. When done well, it can also help learners understand how they learn best (and no, I’m not talking about the debunked theory of learning styles, I’m referring to things such as how they favour piecing together information, what type of context building works best for them, how they effectively retrieve information from their long term memory, etc.)
In my opinion, compared to other assessment models, such as the formative/summative model, the AaL/AfL/AoL is the complete package. When used properly, both the learner and the teacher, facilitator, or content developer are well aware of how the learner is progressing. They are also aware of what steps need to be taken for each specific learner to be successful because they have already zeroed in on the exact stumbling block of the learner.
Keep your eyes peeled over the next few weeks as I delve into each of these assessment types more thoroughly, including how to incorporate them in an instructional design environment and how to adapt them to fulfill effective learning experience design.