Episode 18

How to Design Effective Quizzes and Assignments

When designing an online course, one element to consider is the inclusion of quizzes or tests. You may choose to include them for a grade, or as an option to aid self-study. You may not need to include them at all. But you do have to make a decision about them.

A test can be used as a lesson summary, a gateway to the next lesson, or an assessment of student progress. In order to function in your course design, including quizzes and tests should:

  • Be a positive, anxiety-free experience for students
  • Reinforce learning for each assignment
  • Be necessary to your course architecture
  • Support your learning philosophies

Keeping the quiz short helps reduce test anxiety for students. One solution is to have a large test battery, but only show a few questions at a time. Questions should be challenging, but not unnecessarily difficult. Consider calling the assessment a “challenge” instead of a quiz or test. You can also gamify the quiz and make it fun.

An optional quiz at the end of an assignment can aid in quick assimilation and learning retention by reinforcing what has been studied. Thinking about it in a different context helps to internalize the subject matter.

Of course, for professional accreditations such as medical, technical and legal professions, testing is a requirement for certification. In some other applications, however, quizzes and tests may not be necessary at all. The point is to help the student progress through the lessons and achieve the skills and knowledge they expected as well as be prepared to purchase the next level of coursework.

Assessment results can also help designers improve future versions of course offerings. If students are having trouble with the quizzes, don’t assume the students are the problem. Be willing to reevaluate the course design and measure success by how well students do on the next set of tests. Getting direct feedback from students upon course completion is also an excellent way to improve future course offerings.

In designing online courses with a system like Lifter LMS there are far more options available than ever before. For continuing improvement, always be thinking in terms of, “What if I could…” and then find a way to do that.

Here is the transcript for the “How to Design Effective Quizzes and Assignments” episode:

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Joshua: Hello everyone! We are back today with another episode of LMS Cast. My name is Joshua Millage and I am joined with Christopher Badgett. Today is going to be exciting because we’re going to be talking about something that is highly requested in our Lifter LMS plug-in. We’re not really going to talk about the plug-in specifically more of the philosophical ideas behind quizzes and tests. How we should think about quizzes and tests when we’re designing an online course.

Chris, the mike is on you man. You have a lot of great ideas on how we should look about this particular area of an online course and the importance of placing it as, I guess you would say, gate to other pieces of the course or to actually gauge the acumen of your student.

Chris: Absolutely! I think if you’re building a word press learning management system, the first question when it comes to quizzes and assignments is, “Do you even need that?” If you’re, there’s a lot of instances where you don’t really need quizzes. If your lessons just stand on their own, there’s lots of situations where you don’t need it.

If you do need it, the real function of a quiz, and we have to help our students get over the psychological baggage that comes from memory of not liking quizzes or not liking tests. I think it’s really important as an education entrepreneur to approach quizzes without bringing any baggage of what it used to be like when you’re in school as a kid, anything like that.

Joshua: That’s such a good point because I didn’t even want to do this but I can’t [inaudible 00:01:41].

Chris: Yes.

Joshua: I was like, “I don’t want to talk about quizzes and tests, but I think it’s different with online education because we can gather so much more data. It’s also it’s not always about just memorization. I think that’s something that’s different about online courses, at least the ones I have taken.

Sometimes, especially if it’s a technical program I’m allowed it’s something I’m doing as the course is telling me what to do, which is really fun. I think the quiz in that scenario should be totally different than … you say quiz I automatically think SAT. It bums me up.

Chris: Yes, that’s the thing! As the education entrepreneurs, we need to get over that and we need to help in our approach with it with our customers or our students to not feel that way. You know what? I think the big philosophy there is that quizzes should be there to reinforce learning. That is the number one thing of why they are buttoned.

Joshua: I think that’s the quotable is it should reinforce. How do you do that? You’ve run a lot of online courses and on a lot of different platforms from Udemy to doing your own. You’ve had a course on the academy theme. Prior to Lifter LMS you’ve been all over the place. What have you seen is a good way to use quizzes to engage your students?

Chris: That’s really an “it depends” question. I think it’s one thing. It’s making that reinforced learning, and then it’s another thing which is making it fun. Let’s start with just making it fun. With Lifter LMS and other platforms, sometimes you can get a badge or you hear that word “gamification”. If you pass this quiz you get a badge. If someone has a challenge it’s fun. They want to see their profile page fill up with badges.

Joshua: Yes.

Chris: A quiz is just a part of that journey. That’s one way we can make it fun. The other way to make it fun is to get away from that negative mindset where quizzes sometimes if they are designed poorly in a multiple-choice situation, it’s like they’re trying to trick you. You can’t really tell what’s different between A and B. Don’t be like that! Do it in a way that really reinforces learning.

Joshua: Yes.

Chris: To talk about that a little bit, with the LMS plug-in we’re going to be putting a lot of focus on the quiz architecture. Right now we’re launching with the basic functionality of multiple-choice and assignments where a student can upload something and then the teacher gets it. It’s up to the teacher to manually approve it, that kind of thing. That’s the foundation. From there, there are so many different areas we can go.

Another way that we’re making it fun and less intimidating is that we’re going to have the option to not list every single question on the page so that you have this long list. They can focus on one thing at a time.

Joshua: It’s amazing!

Chris: Then move on to the next one. That’s cool. The other thing is it’s really it depends, because maybe you really do need quizzes. If you’re in a medical certification or a legal profession, it’s important. Maybe you have a governing body that requires certain types of questions and also a passing percentage before you’re allowed to receive the certificate that then allows you to continue on your profession or have some credentials to get a job or that kind of thing.

If you’re just using quizzes to reinforce learning, you can make them fun and also make them optional. Make it so that the student can even skip it if they don’t want it or they could take it and fail and still go on to the next one. That quiz was an opportunity to at least get people thinking about the ideas they’re trying to learn a second time.

Joshua: Yes. One of the things that I think is cool is maybe a little bit of a heck. I like the word “heck”. It’s taking the quiz architecture in LMS and actually using it as a feedback system so that you can continually improve your course. I think a lot of people don’t think of a quiz like utilizing a quiz that way, but there’s ways to ask questions to see whether or not people are actually learning with that piece of content that you put out there.

I look at my father who is he is retiring this year, but he’s taught marketing principles and real estate and all sorts of different business classes for over 30 years. I think it’s 36 years. That is insane to me!

Chris: Yes.

Joshua: One of the things that he said is that the difference between good and bad teachers in his mind is that a good teacher never thinks that they are the expert. They are an expert but they don’t have that arrogance complex. What they’re doing with quizzes is they’re looking at, “A lot of students didn’t do so well here. I need to take that as feedback of what did I do in my teaching to help them see and connect the dots here?” I think it is.

Chris: That’s a really great point.

Joshua: Yes, it’s humble. You have to be humble about it. I think this is something that has to happen in the eLearning space online. It has to because there is so much noise. People put content up. I’m guilty of it. I put a lot of podcasts, I were almost 30 episodes in my other podcast in Fusion Cast. Even though that’s not a quiz, the concept is the same. It’s like going back. What was share well? What did I get a lot of comments on?

Allowing that to inform my next step it takes a lot of energy, but I think it’s important. When I look at quizzes and tests I think like, “Let’s ask questions that are challenging. Let’s reinforce learning like you said, but let’s also decompress what the outcome is of that quiz or that test. Utilize that to follow up and engage the student to make sure that they’re learning. If they fail with our plug-in, but you don’t have to do this in the plug-in, you could see who failed.” Take the time to email that person!

Chris: Yes.

Joshua: “I saw that you failed and I just want to reach out. Is there anything that I didn’t explain well?” You might actually learn that you’re completely missing something in your content. You actually may get go recreate that video or audio or add a paragraph if it’s text. I think it’s really important to look at it that way too. Cool!

Chris: That’s great. That’s such a good point right there in the sense that we have had other episodes about the difference between a passive membership site that’s all about they’re on up okay, well. It’s more of the marketer mindset of, “I just need to get sales. I want to get conversions, get people in my members’ area. Then, boom! There’s my content.

Joshua: Yes.

Chris: We’re taking this whole other approach where yes, that is important. We’re also, once people get in here, we want to use quiz functionality to reinforce their learning and helping people get through the process of learning and achieving that skill or that desired outcome that they, “What’s their motivation for buying the course in the beginning?”

Joshua: Yes, absolutely! Thanks, Chris. I’m not as nervous as I was talking about quizzes and tests. I’m a little bit more chilled out now. I think this is some shortened to the point, but there’s a lot of value here if people chew on it and think about their quizzes and tests as in.

I want to bring in an idea too to close this out from a guy interviewed in Fusion Cast. His name is Jermaine Griggs. In the Fusion soft world he is someone who he is the Michael Jordan. He writes. He was telling me that he has this question that he writes down sometimes just to reinforce. “What if I could? What if I could? What if I could?” It’s this continuing improvement idea.

I think with quizzes and tests it’s like, what if I could make this content more applicable in someone’s day-to-day life? What if I could? He starts to ask these questions. He gets these really innovative ideas by asking, “What if I could?” He doesn’t pressurize himself.

I think when we’re creating quizzes and tests with a system like Lifter LMS that has the ability to expand and connect to other things, what if I could send an email after they answered a question correctly or wrong? What if I could start to get really creative? I think that’s what is going to breed such insane innovation in this online earning space. Actually, hopefully changes the way that people learn, makes it more.

For me, I think one of the metrics I look at is knowledge retention and the speed to get the knowledge in your head to the knowledge in my head. What if I could make that happen? What would that look like? What would the system look like? What would it have to do? That’s one of them that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Yes, I wanted to end with that. Do you have any final thoughts for people?

Chris: Yes, I’m going to piggyback on what you said. That would be, “What if I could make quizzes and tests more appealing, more fun?” There’s a really simple thing you can do. Don’t call it a “test” or a “quiz”! Call it a “challenge”.

Joshua: Yes.

Chris: Come up with your own name for it. Don’t call your lessons “lessons”. Call them something else. Bring the fun factor up.

Joshua: Yes, words are powerful. It’s really important that we use a vernacular that connects with people and is a little bit more energetic than the stodgy lessons and courses and quizzes and things. Awesome! All right man. We’ll close out on that as a good nugget of wisdom until Thursday. We’ll see you then! Awesome! That was good.

Chris: Hang up and start over.

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