Evaluation falls into the category of those often neglected human practices such as exercise and eating right. All of us involved in education or training know that we should engage in systematic evaluation when designing or implementing any type of learning environment, but we rarely get around to it. Perhaps this lapse stems from the fact that most instructional design models such as the ubiquitous ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation) model (Molenda, 2003) appear to suggest that we can postpone evaluation until the end of the process. Whatever the reason, evaluation often remains in the realm of promises made, but not kept, such as “I’ll eat better tomorrow.”
We recommend a primarily pragmatic philosophy of evaluation that maintains that you should evaluate in order to provide the information that you and other decision makers need to make better decisions about the design and implementation of open and distributed learning environments. We view this as analogous to the conclusion that you should exercise and eat right to provide the necessary ingredients for a long and healthy lifespan. Exercise and evaluation are not ends in themselves in most contexts, but means to longer life on the one hand and better decision making on the other.
As a developer, manager, or implementer of open and distributed learning environments, you must make decisions, similar to those made by other professionals. For example, before rendering a diagnosis, a physician usually questions a patient to ascertain the patient’s presenting complaint and medical history, conducts a thorough examination, and runs various tests. In fact, the quality and reputation of a physician is determined largely by how skillful he or she is in conducting “evaluative” acts such as interviewing, examining, and testing. The same is true of an evaluator.