Five Effective Ways for Assessing Adult Learners

Posted by on November 10th, 2016

Learning and instruction are measured by effective assessment. Assessment provides valuable insight for teachers. Assessments are typically categorized as pretest, formative or summative. Pretests, or needs assessments, are used to identify how much knowledge a student has on a given subject prior to any instruction being delivered. The information derived from pretests can be used to structure the direction of a lesson or unit. You may discover through your needs assessment that more or less time needs to be dedicated to a particular area.


Formative assessments give a snapshot of student progress through the course of learning. Formative assessments allow you and your students to identify strengths and weaknesses at various junctures in learning. Any gaps or weaknesses can be addressed more immediately.


Summative assessments provide feedback on student knowledge at the end of a unit or course. Summative assessment results can be compared to pretest results to track knowledge gain.


The use of assessments within your classroom will not only allow you to gauge student performance, they will allow you to evaluate your lesson delivery. If an assessment reveals that a significant portion of learners have not mastered the material, the error may not lie with the students but rather in the delivery. In this case the assessment is effective because it allows you to revamp the lesson for better understanding.


Effective Assessment Tools

Aside from traditional pen and paper tests, there are numerous ways to assess student learning. These additional assessment options often eliminate the traditional pass/fail grades which can be seen as opposition to student motivation. Five effective ways to assess adult learners are:

  1. Performance Tasks – Performance tasks present an opportunity for students to demonstrate their knowledge in a simulated environment. Often these tasks very closely resemble the real world occurrence as much as possible.
  2. Rubrics – Rubrics are a scoring guide used to assess student work against a certain set of standards and criteria. Rubrics can be used in many content areas and assignment types. Students should have access to the rubric at the onset of a task so that the guidelines and expectations are clear. Feedback should be provided using specific evidence from the rubric.
  3. Portfolios – Portfolios are a collection of student work. The included items can show a student’s growth and mastery over time. Checklists and rating scales should be used to measure the portfolio content for consistency. Students should be involved in selecting what items to include in their portfolios.
  4. Role Play & Small Discussion – Role play and small discussions can be used to practice a newly acquired set of skills in context. The conversations that arise from the role play and discussions can give you key insight into the level of knowledge your students have.
  5. Writing Tasks & Projects – Writing tasks and projects allow learners to reflect on their own level of understanding. How they compose the writing or structure the project will often give way to how they have learned the material and are able to translate the content into something more tangible.


Assessments should be used to guide learning and instruction. Your units and lessons should include pre-assessments in addition to the formative and summative tools you choose to implement. When evaluating adult learners, it is necessary to vary the assessment type.


Using effective tools such as performance tasks and portfolios will help you determine what the students know without resorting to a more standardized testing model. These more flexible assessment tools often reveal a greater depth of student knowledge than true/false, multiple choice and some other testing formats.

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