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Evaluating the Effectiveness of Online Courses

Jun 19, 2024
Evaluating the Effectiveness of Online Courses

Students aren’t the only ones being graded. Instructional designers and online course creators must also evaluate the effectiveness of their courses to ensure valuable learning outcomes for students.


One of the easiest ways to measure a course's effectiveness is to test its students. Studies show that authentic assessments that test students in real-world applications lead to better skill acquisition and application. Therefore, quizzes, tests, and other evaluations are essential to the student’s learning and the instructional designer's creation and improvement of course material.


If creating learning modules is only half the battle, measuring course effectiveness is the other half. Let’s review how to tackle assessments and different evaluation methods to judge learning outcomes.

Why Evaluating Online Courses is Important

Evaluating online courses and their effectiveness helps instructional designers understand how their efforts translate to success according to the course's primary goals. It helps instructional designers improve their course content, develop more compelling material, and evaluate the most effective techniques for achieving learning outcomes.


Evaluating online course effectiveness also helps educational institutions, companies, and course sponsors measure results, ensuring money and students’ time are well spent.


For freelance and contract instructional designers, proven course effectiveness is a measurement tool that helps boost your portfolio and increase your value on the job market.


Types of Instructional Design Assessments

When evaluating online courses, instructional designers use different assessments, such as formative and summative assessments. 


  • A formative assessment will collect data that improves the effectiveness of the instruction, allowing you to make improvements as you go. Formative assessments identify areas for improvement during the course.
    • Examples: Question and answer sessions, student feedback

  • Summative assessments collect data that helps make decisions on whether or not to continue using aspects of instruction. Summative assessments tell students how successfully they have learned the material.
    • Examples: Presentations, written assessments, multiple-choice questions


Evaluating course effectiveness using formative and summative assessments gives course creators a holistic look at student preparedness and material effectiveness.


Methods of Evaluating Course Effectiveness

Tests and quizzes allow instructors to measure knowledge gained and comprehension of any module. When evaluating online courses, tests, and quiz grades are one of the quickest and easiest ways to measure results. However, these grades may be skewed, considering the ease of cheating on online tests and quizzes. In-person courses may use test and quiz grades as a more reliable measurement tool.


Written assessments are an excellent way to judge student comprehension of course material. Understanding ideas and being able to write about them in long-form (or short-form) content assignments go hand-in-hand. Thus, written assessments may be used to evaluate the efficacy of an entire course or specific modules.


Question-and-answer sessions examine the gaps between course material and student learning. Frequently asked questions identify topics needing updated course materials to improve student comprehension. 


Course use metrics allow instructional designers to evaluate the effectiveness of a course using “hidden” metrics such as participation and completion rates. These usage metrics measure how well students are engaged with the course’s modules. A low participation rate on a particular module may show ineffectiveness and areas for improvement. In contrast, a high participation rate (especially with high test grades) may show an area of high effectiveness.


Learning to Evaluate Online Courses as an Instructional Designer

Evaluating online courses is an essential step as an instructional designer, not only for your current role but also to prove your value for future roles. As a student of IDOL Academy, you’ll learn how to evaluate course effectiveness, why it’s essential, and what to do with the knowledge to improve your course content.


IDOL Academy students learn so much more, from the entry-level basics of instructional design to practical applications such as creating learning modules from scratch and building a real-life portfolio. In as little as 24 weeks, you can learn everything there is to know about becoming an instructional designer; then, you’ll get certified and start your new career!


Don’t just take our word for it… we guarantee it—sort of! Graduate from IDOL Academy with a portfolio you’re proud of, or you’ll get your money back. That’s right. Take the full 24 weeks of weekly assignments, skill training, live practice sessions, technology tutorials, 1-1 feedback from coaches, and community support. If you’re not totally happy with your work at the end of the course, we’ll give you a full refund of your tuition. (Of course, you’ll have to complete all assignments, meet milestones, and other conditions, but we’re confident you won’t need the fine print.)


Apply now to claim a spot in the next IDOL Academy cohort!