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Through the ever increasing pace of technological innovations, learning has begun to transcend the traditional basic paper and pencil based approach. Educators and students alike are leaning towards online methods to better facilitate learning outcomes. The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has shown only too clearly just how versatile elearning platforms can be. Needless to say, there is far more to elearning than just plugging in a video conferencing tool and repeating on-site classwork online. Effective online learning calls for an investment upfront in the design, development and production of a range of self-learning tools designed to meet the learning requirements of the target audience. These need to be supplemented with a series of collaborative learning activities to ensure engagement of the students in the review and analysis of the learning content. Most importantly, an effective elearning platform requires an evaluation functionality to monitor and assess the progress of each student on a particular learning programme.

Multiple studies have argued that the use of technology can encourage more active and independent learning among students (McKimm, Jollie, & Cantillon, 2003). In this article we outline some of the more innovative online methods for student evaluation being utilized today.

1.Game type learning objects

Game type learning objects allow educators to turn monotonous teachings into bite sized games. After having viewed the required material, game type learning objects can be used to gauge how well the students are understanding the topic at hand. Game-based learning is viewed as more enjoyable by students, more so than the traditional test, thus allowing for a better indicator of the students’ knowledge and skills. Also, they have been shown to improve learning by promoting the development of non-cognitive skills, such as discipline, risk-taking, collaboration, and problem solving. The same is applicable when concerning in-house development for organizations geared towards their employees. The complexity and intricacy of the particular learning game can be suited to the skills and competencies of the target audience. The simpler although high quality graphical games used for the younger age groups are replaced by the more complicated strategy games based on the identification and utilisation of elements of knowledge acquired throughout the game.

2.Dialog Simulators

Simulating dialog online is an effective method of training educators or employees for real-life conversation that can be had with colleagues, customers, students and others. This is especially useful when creating interview type simulations, by which students can be better prepared for questions and issues that may arise in that situation, giving them the best possible chance of success. This is not the only scenario where dialog simulators are proven effective. They are also used extensively to help individuals master their sales pitches and techniques. It can also be utilized as a training tool for experienced individuals to better refine their techniques.

Dialog simulators are not only suitable for the younger student, but can serve as a powerful learning tool anchored in the projection theory which at the heart of many social behaviour research exercises. Essentially, projection techniques invite the audience to describe a staged interaction between people, or a particular situations presented by the researcher. In reality, the more detailed is the description, the more of the person’s own bias and prejudices emerge. Similarly, the dialog simulator creates a scenario and calls for the respondent to posit a suitable response/s. These responses to the dialog simulators situation allow for the collection of valuable information from the respondent through the language and content included or not included. Typically, the responses to the dialog simulators serve as excellent discussion material in tutorial or workshop sessions.

3.Drag-and-Drop

Drag-and-Drops assessment is a method that is used to show the student’s ability to link information provided and be able to apply pre-existing knowledge to solve practical problems. This can be used to encompass both text and image, making it engaging and challenging at the same time. This method can be used for all levels of education, depending of course on the complexity of the task at hand. It has proven to be an important tool for educators who want their students to be able to apply the knowledge they have into practical real-life scenarios. This is particularly effective in getting feedback from respondents who may have basic levels of proficiency in the language being used for the delivery of the programme. The complex arrays which can be included allow for the development of engaging exercises which can be demanding and scale up to the level of the programme content being evaluated. The drag-and-drop assessment is now seen in many under-12 learning programmes in which respondents have a selection of objects or activities being displayed and through various interactions they need to make selections which match the situation to the correct solution. This tool is also used in various in-house training programmes where company contextualised situations are presented and respondents will use the drag-and-drop approach to match the most suitable company product/s to the situation presented.

4.Online forums

Many online education institutions use online forums, along with other mediums of interaction such as video conferencing, to compensate for the lack of social interaction between their students which would be evident in on-site programmes. The online forums give these students the chance to interact virtually, discussing their ideas amongst their peers. Online forums provide valuable insight to the tutors, enabling them to mentor and engage with their students in the discussion of new ideas. It gives tutors a valid perspective to the communication skills and level of subject knowledge of the different students in a group, providing an opportunity for students to demonstrate their knowledge. The better students would typically be the ones engaging in multiple conversations, starting threads and regularly participating. The use of online forums is noticeable in graduate and post graduate online programmes since it provides excellent scope for students to develop their skills in argumentation. They need to learn how to appreciate the position taken by others and respond and challenge these with their own presentations which need to be substantiated by suitable references. In this way, the online forum requires participants to evaluate various different perspectives, and carry out research to identify what has already been said on each and using these references, build a counter argument. This is a deceptively simple exercise which calls for considerable effort if the forum group is large.

A holistic approach Whatever the evaluation tool/s selected, it must be seen to be an integral part of the online programme providing students with the opportunity to demonstrate what they know and have learnt through the programme. This is in contrast with many traditional programmes which seem to be caught up in a challenge to find out what the student does not know. These modern evaluation tools fit in nicely with a strategy of learning based on positive reinforcement and thus serve to encourage students to explore the application of their newly acquired skills and competencies.