Methodologies for Assessing the Adult Learner

Methodologies for Assessing the Adult Learner

Lawrence A. Tomei (Robert Morris University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-824-6.ch014
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Assessments, when properly considered and constructed, have a potential to recognize and value the adult learner, their varied learning styles, and the diverse backgrounds which they represent in the classroom. Properly prepared, assessments present the adult with complex, purposely ambiguous, open-ended problems and tasks that demand from them the ability to integrate knowledge and demonstrate mastery and performance of critical skills. It is important for course designers to create an environment in which formal assessment is fully utilized to track and document learners’ educational successes and learning shortfalls gains. Teachers conduct informal assessment on a daily basis. They should be encouraged to use the informal tools and procedures consistently, testing and retesting as needed and documenting changes in skill levels to gauge learner progress and supplement lesson instruction as it moves forward.
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Plans to assess adult learners are designed to evaluate student outcomes as well as course objectives. To evaluate adult learning, course developers are encouraged to consider both formative and summative measures to consider feedback from as many different perspectives as possible. To evaluate course objectives, it is highly recommended that developers use a variety of tools to simultaneously assess the effectiveness of the course and identify features that require modification.

Formative assessment measures include in-class and homework writing tasks; readings tasks; tasks involving listen, note-taking, and summarizing of classroom and taped lectures; participation in class discussions; and, group and individual presentations and projects. Summative assessment measures include examinations based on reading and writing assignments, listening and note-taking, and discussion and presentations.

In addition to assessing student progress toward course goals, developers try to integrate student assessment to secure a positive impact on student attitudes toward learning. Adults perform well when engaged in tasks that allowed them to assess their own learning and progress. For example, the use of portfolios requires students to compose, compile, and share their learning – a highly successful medium for evaluating adult learning. A properly constructed portfolio contains artifacts of assigned writing tasks essay, entries from learning and thinking (i.e., reflection) journals, evidence of peer assessment, and final disposition of research projects.

In Parts I – V of this text, design guidelines were recommended that included creating successful materials and effective lessons for the adult learner. In assessing adult learning, the basic question changes somewhat from that of the traditional learner. It becomes more encompassing. “How well does this particular lesson increase learner knowledge and understanding of the content area?” Whereas, traditional learners were evaluated with rubrics (i.e., Yes/No, True/False, Present/Missing), rating scales are used quite frequently in adult assessment to expand the choice of responses from among several arranged in hierarchical order.

There are several different kinds of rating scales. A typical rating scale asks learners to choose one response from several categories composed by the evaluator and arranged in hierarchical order. Response categories may be labeled using one of the following schemata:

(1) Category labels use words as descriptors of possible reactions. Researchers who are interested in creating interval scales (scales in which the respondents perceive equal-sized gradations between the points on the scale) must be careful to choose category descriptors that are truly equal-interval. For example, “always,” “constantly,” “continually,” “frequently,” “seldom,” “not at all,” “none of the time,” and, “never” provides an equal-interval category label.

(2) Forced-choice rating scales eliminate undecided options that allow for “no opinion.” Deliberately omitting “undecided,” “no opinion,” “uncertain,” or “don't know” may be reasonable when students are expected to have an opinion or must profess to an established viewpoint.

(3) Generally, rating scales should reflect an equal number of favorable and unfavorable response choices. However, there are times then using alternatives such as “excellent,” “very good,” “good,” “fair,” “poor” is appropriate. Such a scale is unbalanced, with three favorable and only one unfavorable response choice. Evaluators must be ready to justify an unbalanced rating scale, especially if there is no reason to believe that subjects are just as likely to be negative as positive.

(4) Ideally, a rating scale should consist of sufficient points to delineate among the various responses and compile a necessary distinction. Some researchers claim that scales consisting of three points are sufficient (Jacoby and Mattel, 1971). However, there is more contemporary evidence to support the assertion that more scale points produce greater reliability (Churchill and Peter 1984).

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