Self-assessment is one of these lonely things that some may think smacks of navel-gazing. The practice may not always be looked on as a laudable, useful activity. In the context of apportioning ticks for knowledge or ups for skill achievement, it looks inward.
Yet for the lone learner, it has the potential to be a very important and effective learning tool. The temporarily, teacherless elearner has little option than to practice self-assessment. Indeed, any learner who takes the initiative to learn on one’s own (as a life-long learner would) is confronted with the need to assess his or her own learning progress.
In this post I’m going to attempt to list the pros and cons of learner self-assessment with a view to providing possible insight into ways of improving its design.
Even the simplistic answer-at-the-back-of-the-book has the advantage of immediacy. As a young and failing student of Mathematics, I was saved from continuing along that path of failure. I was given a gift of a falling-apart Math textbook from a caring teacher.
It had the answers at the back. Many successful distance students have discovered what I did - immediate feedback of knowledge gain, or skill attainment, can provide powerful encouragement for further learning.
It can be performed at a time convenient to oneself, as can the learning activities that should accompany it. Through a series of immediate self-adjustments in learning or understanding, acquisition of skills and knowledge can be accelerated.
Self-assessment can be a complementary accompaniment to self-paced learning. No other form of assessment is as convenient in this respect. For some learners, it can also be looked on as non-threatening. There is no embarrassment borne by checking one’s own answers - no possible exposure to others of ignorance for the sensitive learner.
No need for sophistication:
Computer based instruction, or any development of that, can be a facile means of self-assessment. Even if it’s the computer that does the assessing, the learner is still in control of the learning pace. Well-designed digital resources don’t have to be overly sophisticated to be successful either. Their real strength is immediacy. When the resources are being designed, there is always the potential to give helpful explanation and further teaching where appropriate.
Strength in introversion:
The introverted learner can often find an inner strength that contributes to momentum gained in learning. For those learners who can provide this for themselves, it can bring a new self-confidence.
The solitary learner:
Self-paced self-assessment in learning is a lonely journey for many learners. For some it can also be depressing. A lot of its success depends on personality. The extroverted learner who enjoys discussing and chatting around the topic can find the learning atmosphere brought on by self-assessment to be hollow, lonely and boring.
Assessment requires energy:
Learning on one’s own requires energy and initiative. The learner is required to bring energy to the learning process nearly all of the time. Self-assessment can be just another boring task that the learner has to do. In this respect the digital resource may provide some relief. However, energy is still required to ‘hook on’ to the learning. Without that, the process can become mechanical and the incentive to stay on track can fade away.
Lack of encouragement:
Nearly all of the encouragement provided by self-assessment comes from the learner. There is no great pat on the back - no accolade that brings the moment of joy and celebration of what has been accomplished in learning. It can be nothing more than ho-hum, which is far short of encouraging.
Frustration in extroversion:
The extroverted learner, who needs people around for ideas and interaction, can become frustrated and exasperated with the task of self-assessment. Some find dredging up the energy for learning to be enough of a chore, without adding to it yet another duty of checking for mistakes or learning that’s gone awry.
In most elearning environments, computer assisted self-assessment can form a major part of the learning cycle. So critical is this to learning, that the design of the feedback given to the learner can make or break successful engagement. A simple RIGHT or WRONG response has its uses. But it can be severely limiting when it comes to encouraging engagement.
A better process may lie in providing a sweep through part or all of the learning cycle, perhaps without having to say YOU'RE WRONG. Another approach to the learning cycle is always useful too. But for some purposes, a simple chart or checklist may be all that's needed.