Assessment: Formative v Summative

24 Sep 2018 |Written by Kevin Maye


In this blog series, Kevin Maye, takes a look at some learning theories and how we can use them to improve Learn My Way. This month, formative v summative assessment. Which is the most useful and do we need to do more on Learn My Way?

What do formative and summative assessment mean?

Formative assessment has many forms but there are a few key points that make it 'formative':

  • it happens throughout the learning process/journey
  • it informs change of the learning process/journey

Most people experience summative assessment in the form of exams. If you sat GCSE exams or got your lifesaver badge at the swim club, this is a form of summative assessment.

Summative assessment is about measuring ability or knowledge against preset criteria.

Is there a place for both?

Both are useful. Think about learning to drive. Each week you'd get a little bit better and your instructor would adjust what you were learning. That's formative.

Then, when you had built up a good level of skills, you take a driving test. Someone checks that you are capable of driving safely. That's summative.

Without formative assessment you would be stuck learning clutch control every week. Without the summative assessment how sure could we be that drivers are safe out on our roads?

Do we use either on Learn My Way at the moment?

Well, yes and no.

Learn My Way is in theory completely open for each user of the website to select their own journey.

So when we say, 'You got 1 out of 4, why not go over the course again?', people could take that formative assessment and amend their learning experience.

But we also put a big 'Next course' button at the end of each course. That doesn't encourage people to take advantage of the formative assessment points.

We also have initial assessments (formative). And there is an City & Guilds Online Basics assessment (summative). Online Centres use both to good effect.

What are our future plans?

We see lots of good examples of online platforms that adjust the user experience based on feedback (Khan Academy is just one great example). Longer term that's where we would like to see Learn My Way, but there are a lot of changes we need to make before we achieve that goal.

There are brilliant Online Centres using formative and summative assessments really well and we'd like to learn from them.

If you've got a great example of how you use formative, or summative assessment, that we should be building into the future of Learn My Way, please get in touch at hello@goodthingsfoundation.org. We're always open to learning.