7 Ways eLearning Can Help With Formative Assessments


In contrast with summative assessments, where the aim is grading and reporting on students attainment, formative assessments are day to day activities helping teachers measure comprehension and provide constructive feedback and guidance to their students. The two are often compared as assessment of learning vs assessment for learning. (If you’re new to formative assessments there’s a few books on the topic listed at the end of this post.)

Formative assessments require creative thinking from teachers but also their willingness to analyze and incorporate findings into future teaching. At least for the first part help is readily available. A number of creative assessment techniques, tried and proven in practice is growing. Most of them are simple and can be implemented quickly.

These techniques become even more engaging with the use of eLearning. In a broader sense eLearning is not limited to just Learning Management Systems or Instructional Authoring tools but encompasses all software, apps and websites that can assist in the learning process and especially in formative assessments. Some of the ways this can be achieved are listed below:


magnifying-glassEngage students by asking them to do some research at the start of the class. This can be a good alternative to entry cards. Let students come up with their own keywords to get relevant search results. Beyond the obvious Google and other main search engines, there’s also Ask, How Stuff Works, and a few that are specialized for younger students like Fact Monster and KidRex. Suggest looking for answers at Answers or Quora or searching for images and videos in addition to articles.

When a student finds an interesting source they need tools to make and organize clippings. Evernote is a great note-taking and organizing software that comes with rich browser add-ons to make annotated clippings of any web page content. If you need just a quick screen capture Snagit is also a good alternative. Video Notes enables taking notes which are synchronized with the video.

Students should select their favorite clipping and explain why they chose it. Note: teaching researching skills is a topic on its own.


pencilGive students a creative task to express how they understand or feel about the topic. They can create a postcard, advertisement or infographics or just doodle something quickly. On the other hand,  if time permits let them create a short video or animation.

There are plenty of good tools available and some students will already have their favorite. If not, suggest Canva and visme for graphics design. Use iPads as individual whiteboards with Jot. For easy animations and videos there’s GoAnimate, Makesto and Animoto. Stock photography libraries such as pixabay and Pexels will also come handy. Another great way to gain insight into students’ thinking is to have them draw mind maps. Coggle, iThoughts and XMind can be used for this.

Let students explain and comment on each other’s creations.


questionQuizzes are a great way to quickly assess what students have learned so far. You can make it more engaging by splitting students into two groups, each preparing questions that other group must then answer.

To create quizzes you can use either a generic survey tool like Google Forms and Typeform or an app designed specifically for classroom work. Quizlet contains thousands of ready-made flash card sets, Socrative offers instant result aggregation and visualization while Naiku supports integration with grade book software.

When questioning individual students iLEAP Pick A Student, Pikme and other similar apps will randomly pick the next student to answer a question.

Many of the above quiz apps also let students do their own quizzes at home and perform self-assessment.


Input-gamingTeachers are finding it hard to compete with engaging digital apps adopted by students, especially games. Some games, however, can turn into powerful formative assessment tools.

Minecraft and SimCity offer a free-form creative experience that teachers can guide based on lesson requirements. Web sites like Mathletics and Kahoot host quiz competitions that extend beyond the classroom. Lectora Inspire allows you to rapidly create your own HTML5 and Flash games and interactions.

Games don’t always need to be sophisticated though. A simple Hangman can bring excitement and engage students.

For more classroom gaming ideas see this article.


Thumbs up (from Twitter Emoji)One of the popular techniques in the formative assessment repertoire is getting continuous feedback from students about their level of understanding. It is traditionally done with thumbs up/down or coloured cups. Today, many eLearning apps can replace or complement these.

With geddit students give instant feedback about their understanding, privately and in real-time. Polleverywhere helps you gather live class responses via texting or web while Twtpoll allows voting via social media channels. AnswerGarden adds a nice touch by displays all answers to a question in a tag cloud. GoSoapBox is another classroom response system featuring a confusion barometer which allows students to indicate when they have become confused with the material, or need the teacher to slow down.

You can also use these survey and polling apps as exit cards.


Interactive White Board (Pixabay)Collaboration is another great way to engage students and at the same time encourage them to take responsibility for their learning. Often, a best insight into their understanding will come from their comments on another student’s work.
Most mainstream software like Google Docs or Microsoft Word allow commenting and should do just fine although there are now also many dedicated collaboration apps written specifically for classroom.

Conceptboard facilitates collaboration in a visual way, letting students work and comment at the same time. Verso uses teacher-generated challenges or flips to elicit students responses. Students can then comment on each other’s responses and like or flag them. iBrainstorm allows capturing and sharing notes and drawings across multiple iPads. Lino and Padlet serve as electronic cork boards and can be used as exit cards.

Also, many of the tools mentioned in previous sections can be used in collaborative fashion. Teacher can guide the collaboration with the use of an interactive whiteboard or an interactive projector.


DiscussionAn extension to collaboration, a discussion is another key element of formative assessments and includes both the teacher’s feedback as well as peer debate. Today’s generations of students have grown with social media and embrace its innovative ways of communicating. When used in the classroom, social media enables all students to actively participate (compared to a select few, raising their hands) and also empowers the teacher to collect, document and analyze discussion threads.

While Facebook and Twitter can be used with senior students there are also specialized social tools targeted to schools. With Backchannel Chat and Todays Meet a teacher can control and moderate classroom discussions in real time. Edmodo is a platform that extends the concept of social learning beyond the classroom, connects students, teachers and parents and enables sharing of resources between teachers.

This of course is just a short list, to give you some ideas and entice you to explore further. For more great eLearning apps check Kathy Dyer’s article, look them up on Product Hunt and Pearltrees or browse through a huge collection at Edshelf.

Also, remember that technology is a great enabler but cannot replace a constructive and encouraging feedback that only a good teacher can give.


For your bookshelf
Assessment 3.0: Throw Out Your Grade Book and Inspire Learning Mark D. Barnes Assessment 3.0: Throw Out Your Grade Book and Inspire Learning
Embedded Formative Assessment - practical strategies and tools for K-12 teachers Dylan Wiliam Embedded Formative Assessment – practical strategies and tools for K-12 teachers
Checking for Understanding: Formative Assessment Techniques for Your Classroom, 2nd edition Doug Fisher Checking for Understanding: Formative Assessment Techniques for Your Classroom, 2nd edition
Formative Assessment and Standards-Based Grading: Classroom Strategies That Work Robert J. Marzano Formative Assessment and Standards-Based Grading: Classroom Strategies That Work

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *