October 9th, 2009

Using Self-Check Exercises to Assess Online Learning

By:

The intermediate statistics class I took quite a number of years ago had two types of learners at the outset—those who were worried about passing the course and those who were sure they couldn’t pass it. The professor clearly understood the “fear-of-stats” phenomenon and used a number of instructional techniques to help learners gain confidence and skills.

One especially valuable technique was consistent use of self-check exercises. These were handed out at the end of each class along with an answer sheet. Class started each time with a question-and-answer period about the self-check exercises from the previous session. Doing the exercises was optional and they weren’t handed in or graded, but nearly everyone did them, and the folks who did easily gained confidence and passed the course.

What are self-check exercises, exactly? They are problems (with answers) given to learners that allow them to assess how they are doing on an ongoing basis. Doing them online with self-grading provides immediate feedback. Links to additional materials can be provided to help anyone who is having difficulties. Online learners can do these exercises and submit questions they have, which the instructor can aggregate and respond to for the benefit of all learners.

Studies show that these types of activities help learners keep tabs on their progress and adjust their efforts, know when to seek help, and stay on track. These outcomes are especially important in online courses.

Some of the most important benefits of self-check exercises for online learning include:

  • Helping learners determine what they do and do not understand so they can target where extra study is needed.
  • Providing immediate feedback to learners and an option to link to additional materials (which may reduce the number of unfocused questions sent to the instructor).
  • Providing feedback to the instructor about where learners are having difficulties so immediate interventions can be implemented.
  • Increasing learner satisfaction with the instructor and the course.

Getting Started
Consider how self-check exercises can be used in the courses you teach. Are there concepts that learners consistently have problems understanding? Are there terms that learners need to memorize or concepts that they need to understand? These might be the best places to start.

Patti Shank, PhD, CPT, is a widely recognized instructional designer and instructional technologist, and writer who builds and helps others build good online and blended courses and facilitates learning. She can be reached through her website: http://www.learningpeaks.com.

Excerpted from Online Classroom, Feb. 2007.