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Formative assessment in online learning

Written By: Lisa-Maria Muller
3 min read


This is a summary of a research article on student perceptions of the effectiveness of formative assessment in an online learning environment by Obura Ogange et al. (2018).

Assessment is an essential part of teaching and learning in both face-to-face and online teaching. Formative assessment provides teachers and students with insights on ongoing teaching and learning processes. It allows teachers to understand where students are in their learning and where they might require more help, which can help inform their planning, and it gives students the opportunity to understand which aspects of a unit they have understood, which areas they still need to work on and, sometimes, how to improve their performance.

Innovations in information technology offer a range of approaches to formative assessment, from quick multiple-choice tests with immediate feedback to in-text annotations that explain to students what they did well and where they need to improve. It is important to understand which forms of feedback are perceived to be most effective by students, so educators can take their views into account when planning their online teaching and assessment. To find out more about students’ attitudes to formative assessment and its effectiveness in online learning, Obura Ogange et al. (2018) studied the perceptions of science and business students at Maseno University in Kenya.

A total of 72 randomly selected undergraduate students participated in the study. They completed an online survey with 31 closed-ended questions on 5-point Likert scale (e.g. strongly agree – strongly disagree; never – always) relating to the perceived difficulty of different quiz types, the perceived level of difficulty of different assignment types, the immediacy of feedback and their preferred feedback mechanism.

Results show that students found multiple choice questions to be easiest, followed by true or false quizzes and matching quizzes. Students perceived gap filling exercises to be the hardest. In terms of assignment types, they perceived posting on discussion forums to be easiest, followed by peer assessment, offline and essay type assignments. E-Portfolios, wikis, reflections and database assignments were generally perceived to be more difficult by the responding students.

Students then rated the promptness of feedback in teacher -, computer- and peer-based assessments. Student answers indicate that computer- and peer-based assessments tended to be the ones with the fastest turnaround, while it took longest to receive feedback on assignments marked by teachers.

The results also show that students preferred certain forms of feedback. The most popular form of feedback was a summary of key areas that students needed to improve on, followed by tracked changes and comments on documents, peer comments and face-to-face comments.

Overall, the results suggest that multiple choice or true and false quizzes might be a motivating way for students to test their own learning, particularly if they provide immediate feedback. This would also enable them to study independently outside of their usual lessons. Students also welcomed the immediacy of computer-mediated feedback on the one hand, and more detailed comments on their work on the other. It would be interesting to consider how the two could be combined – how more extensive, personalised feedback could be partly automated to minimise teacher workload.

It is important to note that this study was carried out with university students, so results might not be directly applicable to a school context, particularly to younger students who might have less experience with online learning and some students, regardless of age, might require additional guidance to engage with online forms of peer feedback.


Key questions for you and colleagues

  • Consider if and what types of quizzes you currently integrate in your online learning. What purpose do they fulfil? Are they part of summative or formative assessment? Could they be used differently?
  • Students rated summaries of key areas that required improvement as their preferred form of feedback, peer assessment to be relatively easy and peer-feedback as faster than teacher feedback. Could the three be combined in your context to provide personalised yet efficient approaches to feedback in online learning environments?



Evidence Based Education (2020) Assessment and feedback in an online context: Feedback. In: MyCollege. Available at: (accessed 15 June 2020).

Evidence Based Education (2020) Assessment and feedback in an online context: Peer assessment. In: MyCollege. Available at: (accessed 15 June 2020).

Obura Ogange B, Agak JO, Odhiambo Okelo K, et al. (2018) Student perceptions of the effectiveness of formative assessment in an online learning environment. Open Praxis 10(1): 29-39.


Share your experiences with educators globally by joining the discussion below. What quiz types do you currently integrate in your online learning and what purpose do they fulfil?

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