The Case Against Pre-Testing For Online Courses

Clark Quinn, executive director at Quinnovation, pokes holes in the conventional wisdom about pre-tests. It’s a given that completing an online course will result in a change in knowledge, but, according to Quinn, that’s not the point. The point is whether learners can demonstrate mastery of new skills. “What’s important is not that learners can do more than they could before, but that they can now do what they need to do. This is criterion-referenced performance.”

To the argument that pre-tests help prepare students for learning, Quinn admits that by activating relevant pre-existing knowledge, pre-tests may help to prepare students cognitively. But they’re not likely to prepare students motivationally. On the contrary, “knowing that every course will start with a quiz is likely to drive students away.” Instead, Quinn suggests situating the learning in context, which can prepare learners both cognitively and emotionally.

The only legitimate use Quinn sees for pre-tests is to enable students to test out of a course. Under those circumstances, the pre-test should be designed to demonstrate mastery of the learning objectives and it should be optional.

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Christopher Wofford is Digital Media Producer and host of WebSeries at eCornell.
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