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Online Learning Can Help to Remove Barriers to Formative Assessment


IAE Guest Blog
Racquel Biem
Chinook Cyber School, Swift Current, Saskatchewan, Canada.

Formative assessment is a cycle of teaching, learning, and feedback that occurs when learning is in progress, while there is still opportunity to learn and change (Heritage, 2011). Formative assessment has long been acknowledged for its benefits in increased learning for students. Wren and Cotton’s article acknowledges that there are barriers to implementing formative assessment in traditional classrooms, such as peer comparison and also the belief held by many students and teachers that not all students can achieve a high level of success (Wren and Cotton, 11/06/2008). Online learning has the ability to eliminate many of these barriers, thus making online learning a perfect opportunity to implement formative assessment for learning excellence (Heritage, 2011).

Removing the barriers listed above does not, in and of itself, has not make online learning preferred choice for learning; good pedagogy must still be applied (Allen and Seaman, 2007). Depending on learning style and student needs, either online learning or face-to-face learning may be preferred or more suited to one student over another, but both rely on good teaching pedagogy (Mupinga, Nora, and Yaw, 2006). In either case, formative assessment is essential in effective teaching and learning.

Online learning allows benefits in application and implementation of formative assessment through ways such as those listed below.

Added think time

Classroom discussions can be an excellent way to check for student understanding. They allow students to learn from one another and to develop critical thinking skills, while also giving the teacher additional feedback about where the students are in their learning process (Black and Wiliam, 1998). One of the drawbacks to discussions in a face-to-face classroom is that students who think to talk rather than talk to think may be reluctant to participate (TeacherStream, 2009). Online learning removes this barrier, as online discussions allow students additional time to think before responding. This, in turn, can reduce anxiety for anxious students (Blackboard, 1998).

Immediate feedback without increased workload
for the instructor

Online quizzes allow for immediate feedback and can be set up to allow multiple tries without any additional work for the instructor. With the increased capability of online quizzes, teachers can structure future content based on a student’s prior scores. Online quizzes are an excellent way to direct students to the learning material they need as soon as they need it, while still at a low energy level for the instructor.

Fear of peer comparison removed

One of the major benefits of online learning is that there is little peer comparison. No one needs to know that it took one student twice as long as another to finish an assignment, or that another student needed to do additional assignments or learning activities in order to fill gaps in prior knowledge, or that yet another student chose a different method of assessment.

Peer assessment can easily be done anonymously in an online course. Sometimes, in face-to-face classrooms, peers may feel guilty if they give feedback that their peer may see as negative.

Ease of adjusting instruction and assessment to
meet the needs of the student

Most importantly, formative assessment is implemented to allow the teacher to adjust the teaching to meet the individual needs of students. In a face-to-face classroom, switching from one assignment to another for one or two students may lead to increased classroom management issues, peer comparisons, and self-defeating attitudes (Wren and Cotton, 11/06/2008). In an online environment, the teacher has space and flexibility to change the path to the learning goals without the worry of how to explain or give instructions for three or more different assignments in the same class time and still keep students on task.

The barrier to learning created by a belief that all students can be successful is one that, unfortunately, my experience has led me to believe is a strong barrier in online learning (Wren and Cotton, 11/06/2008). I see time and time again that there is an underlying belief by both teachers and students that not all students can be successful online. Data from the Chinook School Division indicates that 98% of their students are successful in passing their online courses (Budd, 3/09/2016). This level is well above the same province’s graduation rates of 74.8% (Graney, 1/13/2016). I know changing unchallenged beliefs can be difficult, but perhaps this data provided by the Chinook School Division can help to establish a belief that online students are every bit as capable of success as are face-to-face students.

References and Resources

Allen, I.E., & Seaman, J. (2007). Online nation: Five years of growth in online learning. Online Learning Consortium. Retrieved 9/5/2016 from .

Biem, R. (2016). Online learning. Retrieved 9/5/2016 from

Black, P. & Wiliam, D. (1998). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. Assessment Group of the British Educational Research Association. Retrieved 9/5/2016 from

Blackboard Document (1998). Educational benefits of online learning. Retrieved 9/5/2016 from

Budd, S. (3/09/2016). Interview by R. Biem. Chinook Cyber School, Swift Current, Saskatchewan.

Graney, E. (1/13/2016). Saskatchewan graduation rates stall. Regina Leader-Post. Retrieved 9/5/2016 from

Heritage, M. (2011). Formative assessment: An enabler of learning. New Horizons for Learning. Retrieved 9/5/2016 from

Moursund, D. (7/9/2016). Project Tomorrow: A report on uses of computer technology in education. IAE Blog. Retrieved 9/14/2016 from

Mupinga, D.M. Nora, R.T., & Yaw, D.C. (2006). The learning styles, expectations, and needs of online students. College Teaching. Retrieved 9/14 2016 from

TeacherStream (2009). Mastering online discussion board facilitation. Retrieved 9/5/2016 from

Wren, D.G., & Cotton, J.A. (11/06/2008). Using formative assessment to increase learning. Retrieved 9/5/2016 from

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Wednesday, 27 October 2021

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