I started this post as an overview of the Litmos Assessment features (soon to come), when I realized there is a piece that needs to come before we jump into the overview. This missing piece is: the importance of assessments and why they should be used.
As I mentioned in a past post, my background is in technical training. In my personal experience, my training has been based around classroom training and virtual training. Coming into Litmos, I am now facing a new kind of training I am not as familiar with. One thing you learn as a trainer in a classroom or virtual atmosphere is to listen and watch your learners. In doing so, you can pick up on hints of whether or not the learners are obtaining the information, you can then take this information and tailor it to the learner's needs. In eLearning, we no longer have this as a tool and must rely on other tactics of measuring if the the information is being absorbed and assisting learners in understanding the material. In eLearning, this is where Assessments can be used in assisting learners and improving courses.
Assessments in any style of training can be used as a device to help learners think about the information they have just been exposed to. It gives them a chance to rack their brains for the correct answer. When in a classroom or virtual training, one of the tools in your arsenal is asking questions during the course, in eLearning you have this same ability through assessments. You even have the ability to explain the correct answer as you would in a classroom.
In researching this topic I came across this article which talks about a study on how learners are able to absorb more information when they are tested on the material: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/learning-recall.html. Even though this study is not specifically regarding eLearning, it has some great information on the importance of questions during any learning process. The article specifically talks about asking a single free text question after a reading, therefore I can only imagine what can be achieved by channeling questions that force the learner to recall specific parts of the course. Another thing I took away from this article is that even if there is no need to offer an "assessment" at the end of a course, simply adding a single assessment or survey question with a free text field asking the learner to recall what they have just learned may be beneficial for them to retain the information.
The most traditional reason for an assessment, both in eLearning and in classroom learning, is to assess how much information the learner has gained. The idea is that if they are able to answer all questions correctly, then they have retained the information given during the course. If the learner answers the questions incorrectly then perhaps they are having trouble understanding the material. An additional benefit for this type of assessment is to monitor the course to give the course developer information on course improvements. If all or most of the learners do poorly on the assessment or on specific questions (this report is available in Litmos) you will gain information about the course itself. The reason many learners may fail is because the information in the course may not deliver the information in the best way. Or the assessment questions may be to difficult or poorly written. The course material may then be changed to insure the learners success, which is the goal of all education.