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The Role of Assessments in eLearning: Formative vs. Summative

The Role of Assessments

Assessments are integral to effective education. They inform decisions around instructional needs, curriculum efficacy, teaching methodologies, learning potential, course progression, and more. In the eLearning space, in particular, assessments are exceptionally important to pinpoint learners’ strengths and measure the overall effectiveness of the program.

Favorably, we have a host of assessment techniques to evaluate the learner and the course instruction. For the purpose of this blog, we’ll explain formative and summative assessments and understand how they compare.

Why Are Assessments in eLearning Important?

About 80% of organizations have been using eLearning platforms. The success and pervasiveness of eLearning can be attributed to the inclusion of assessments in eLearning programs. Here’s a rundown of the reasons why they are so important:

1.Guiding the Learning Path
Assessments can be used to identify the learner’s strengths and weaknesses. This information can then be used to provide personalized learning recommendations and guide the learner to the most relevant content. For example, if a learner is struggling with a particular concept, an assessment can help identify the specific areas where they need additional support. The learner can then be directed to resources that can help them to master the concept.

2.Testing the Learner’s Understanding
Assessments can be used to test the learner’s understanding of the material that has been presented. This information can be used to ensure that the learner is meeting the course’s learning objectives. Again, assessments can help narrow down on the pertinent areas where the learner needs additional instruction.

3.Providing Relevant Feedback to Learners
Providing learners with feedback on their progress is easier with data from assessments. This feedback can motivate learners and help them identify areas where they need to improve. For example, an assessment can provide a learner with concrete feedback on their writing skills or on their ability to solve problems. The feedback report can be made more comprehensible and actionable by:

  • Visually representing the outcomes
  • Explaining the rationale behind scoring
  • Laying emphasis on the most critical elements of the result
  • Measuring the Effectiveness of Training

4.Assessments can be leveraged to measure the effectiveness of training

This information can be used to identify any areas where the training program needs to be improved. For example, if a large number of learners are struggling with a particular assessment, this may indicate that the training program needs to be revised. Or, if a large number of learners are failing a particular assessment, this may indicate that the assessment is too difficult or that the training program does not adequately prepare learners for the assessment.

What Is Formative Assessment?

Formative assessment is a method of evaluating students’ knowledge as they learn. It involves a series of questions and exercises that help teachers monitor a student’s progress during a course. Formative assessments are low-stakes and usually don’t contribute to a student’s final grade. They provide feedback and information during the learning process and can help students identify their strengths and weaknesses .As such, formative assessments can include:

  • Summarizing the main points of a lecture
  • A weekly quiz to test comprehension
  • Visual art, such as drawing, collages, etc.
  • Drawing a concept map
  • Research proposals

Benefits of Formative Assessment in eLearning

Formative assessments are advantageous in the following ways:

  1. Improved Learner Engagement
    Formative assessment can keep learners engaged by providing them with opportunities to practice the concepts they have learned and receive feedback on their progress. This feedback can allow learners to identify their strengths and weaknesses and focus their learning efforts on the areas where they need the most improvement.
  2. Increased Learner Motivation
    Formative assessment can also increase learner motivation by helping learners set and achieve learning goals. When learners know that they will be regularly assessed on their progress, they are more likely to stay motivated and put in the effort required to learn.

Also Read: Why Should You Have an LMS With an In-Built Assessment Engine?

What Is Summative Assessment?

Summative assessment is a type of evaluation that occurs at the end of a course or training program. It measures how much a student has learned by comparing their performance to a standard or benchmark. Summative assessments are often high-stakes. Examples of summative assessments include:

  • Mid-term and end-term examinations
  • Research projects
  • Presentations and portfolios

Benefits of Summative Assessment in eLearning

Summative assessments serve as pivotal instruments in the realm of eLearning, offering a myriad of invaluable advantages that underpin the efficacy of digital education. How? Well, they help with:

  1. An Assessment of Overall Progress
    Summative assessments are beneficial in outlining how students have performed through the course or a project. They provide an objective insight into a learner’s overall progress during a specific period.
  2. Insights That Can Spell Improvement
    Summative assessments provide learners with a sense of accomplishment or stress based on the outcome. Regardless, the insights help learners identify areas where they need additional support.

Formative vs. Summative Assessment: Differences and Similarities

Formative assessment and summative assessment are both assessments used in educational settings, but they differ in several ways and have some similarities as well:


No.Formative AssessmentsSummative Assessments
TimingThese are ongoing, providing real-time feedback.These occur at the end, serving as the ultimate proficiency test.
FocusThese evaluate learning processes.These focus on overall mastery.
FeedbackThese provide continuous feedback.These offer holistic feedback at the end.
ExamplesThese include low-stakes quizzes and assignments.These are final exams or projects.
TrackingThese are tracked in real-time using analytics.These result in quantifiable grades.


  • Assessment Tools: Both use various tools like quizzes and presentations for evaluation.
  • Learning Objectives: Both align with overall eLearning objectives, with formative assessments refining instruction and summative assessments assessing achievement.
  • Educational Accountability: Both contribute to educational accountability by providing data on progress and program effectiveness for informed decisions.

What To Prefer-Formative or Summative?

Utilize both, but make sure to understand their significance.If your primary goal is to help learners learn more effectively, focus more on formative assessment. If your primary goal is to measure learner achievement or to evaluate the effectiveness of teaching, focus more on summative assessment.

As mentioned above, in most cases, the best approach is to use a combination of formative and summative assessment because it ensures that learners are learning and achieving the desired outcomes.

How Gyrus Helps Set Up eLearning Assessments?

GyrusAim LMS provides a comprehensive suite of tools for training and development. It includes various features that can help create, deliver, and manage eLearning assessments. Moreover, GyrusAim allows instructors to leverage assessment analytics to better inform decisions around tweaking the program or paving personalized learning paths. Create and deliver engaging and effective eLearning assessments with GyrusAim. Schedule a demo today!


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