Types of Assessments for Online Learning/Education

Niklas Vernersson
Niklas Vernersson

What is an online assessment? What types of online assessments in education are there, and how do you use online assessments to the best of your ability? Whether you're an educator seeking innovative assessment methods or a student navigating the digital learning space, this article includes everything you need to know about assessments.

What is an Assessment?

An assessment in education is a systematic process for documenting and using empirical data to measure knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs. The goal of assessment is to make improvements, as opposed to simply being judged. Assessments are used to inform teaching strategies, provide feedback to students, and gauge the overall effectiveness of educational programs. 

The Importance of Assessments in Education

  • Track student development: Assessments offer a structured approach to monitor students' development, identifying both strengths and areas for improvement.
  • Enhance course quality: By analyzing assessment data, educators can identify successful aspects of their courses and pinpoint areas in need of improvement to refine teaching methods and curriculum content.
  • Provide constructive feedback: Feedback from assessments helps students understand their performance and identify areas for growth to promote academic development and encourages continuous learning.
  • Identify disengagement: Assessments can help identify students who are disengaged, allowing educators to intervene promptly and re-engage them in the learning process.
  • Boost motivation and recognition: Acknowledging students' efforts and achievements through assessments can significantly enhance their motivation and drive to excel academically.

What are Online Assessments?

The meaning of online assessments is simply that they are assessments taking place digitally over the internet, allowing educators to deliver tests and assignments remotely and in a digital environment. This format provides flexibility and accessibility, enabling students to complete assessments from any location with internet access. There are a great many types of online assessments in education that are used for different situations in different contexts for different purposes. 

The Differences between Traditional and Online Assessments


Traditional Assessments: Typically require students to be physically present in a specific location at a set time, which can be restrictive and challenging to coordinate.
Online Assessments: Allow students to take assessments from anywhere, accommodating diverse schedules and geographical locations, thus providing greater flexibility.


Traditional Assessments: Often involve manual grading, which can be time-consuming and prone to errors.
Online Assessments: Streamline the grading process with automated systems, providing immediate feedback and reducing the workload for educators.


Traditional Assessments: Can be vulnerable to cheating and security breaches without strict supervision.
Online Assessments: Utilize advanced proctoring tools, lockdown features, and other technologies to enhance the integrity and security of the examination process.


Traditional Assessments: May not always be easily accessible to students with disabilities, requiring specific accommodations.
Online Assessments: Can be designed to be more inclusive, offering various assistive technologies that make them accessible to students with different needs, ensuring a fair testing environment for all.

What Types of Online Assessments are used in Education?

Here’s a quick look at five of the most common types of online assessments used in education, and when they should be used.

What is a Diagnostic Assessment?

Diagnostic assessments are pre-instruction evaluations that help educators understand students' existing knowledge and skills. These assessments identify strengths and weaknesses, allowing for tailored instruction to meet students' needs. They are typically used at the beginning of a course or unit to inform lesson planning and ensure that teaching strategies address individual student requirements.

When to use: At the start of a new instructional period or unit to establish a baseline understanding of student abilities and inform personalized teaching strategies.

What is a Formative Assessment?

Formative assessments are ongoing evaluations used during the learning process. They help teachers monitor student learning and provide immediate feedback. Examples include quizzes, class discussions, and peer reviews. These types of online assessments in education are crucial for adjusting instruction and providing support where needed to enhance student learning.

When to use: Throughout the instructional period to continuously gauge student understanding, provide feedback, and adjust teaching methods as necessary.

What is a Performance Assessment?

Performance assessments require students to demonstrate their knowledge and skills through complex tasks, such as projects, presentations, or experiments. These assessments emphasize the application of learning in real-world scenarios and are often used to assess higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills.

When to use: During and at the end of instructional units where practical application and demonstration of skills are key learning outcomes, such as in project-based or hands-on learning environments.

What is an Authentic Assessment?

Authentic assessments require students to apply their knowledge and skills to real-world tasks and problems, reflecting the kinds of challenges they are likely to face outside the classroom. These assessments emphasize the practical application of what students have learned and are designed to be relevant and meaningful to their lives and future careers.

When to use: Authentic assessments are best used in courses where the application of knowledge to real-world scenarios is critical.

What is a Benchmark Assessment?

Benchmark assessments are periodic evaluations used to measure students' progress toward achieving specific standards or learning goals. They provide data that can be used to adjust instruction and improve educational outcomes. These assessments help ensure that students are on track to meet curriculum benchmarks and standards.

When to use: At regular intervals throughout the school year to monitor progress and inform instructional adjustments, typically aligning with key milestones or standards.

What is a Summative Assessment?

Summative assessments evaluate student learning at the end of an instructional period. They are typically high stakes and include exams, final projects, and standardized tests. These assessments provide a comprehensive measure of student achievement and are often used for grading and reporting purposes.

When to use: At the conclusion of a course, unit, or academic term to assess overall learning and assign final grades.

How to Design your Online Assessments

Apart from the great variety of types of online assessments in education, there’s also multiple types of designs for assessments suitable for different situations, with their specific advantages and limitations.

Multiple Choice Questions

Multiple-choice questions are excellent for testing whether learners can distinguish between different options or recall specific information. They are effective for quickly assessing factual knowledge, such as dates, terms, or basic concepts, without requiring in-depth explanation.

  • When to use: In ungraded, self-reflection quizzes and diagnostic assessments to help learners gauge their understanding.
  • Advantages: Quick and easy to grade and provides immediate feedback to learners.
  • Limitations: Not suitable for evaluating deep understanding, analysis, or reflective thinking. Should not be the sole assessment method in summative evaluations, especially for complex theoretical knowledge.

Multimodal Design

Multimodal assessments integrate various forms of media, such as videos, images, animations, and interactive activities like matching and ordering. These assessments engage learners in different ways and enhance knowledge retention by linking information to visual and auditory cues.

  • When to use: In creative courses where students can showcase their skills through video submissions or visual projects, and in language learning for vocabulary testing or interactive language practice.
  • Advantages: Increases engagement and interest and helps in better retention of information through multi-sensory learning.
  • Limitations: Not always effective as part of multiple-choice quizzes unless they allow for detailed student elaboration.

Open-Ended Questions

Open-ended questions, including short essays, text assignments, and file submissions, provide deeper insights into a learner’s understanding and ability to articulate their thoughts. These questions encourage critical thinking and detailed responses.

  • When to use: In theoretical courses like history, leadership, or literature, where analysis and reflective thinking are crucial. Also to evaluate written communication skills in courses like foreign languages, copywriting, and other writing-intensive subjects.
  • Advantages: Encourages critical thinking and deeper analysis, and allows students to demonstrate their understanding and articulate their thoughts comprehensively.
  • Limitations: Can be stressful for learners, especially those with learning disabilities. They also require more time to grade and may necessitate accommodations for students who struggle with writing.

Oral Exams/Interviews

Oral exams and interviews allow for real-time assessment of a student's understanding and communication skills. These can be used to evaluate knowledge, critical thinking, and verbal articulation.

  • When to use: In courses that emphasize verbal communication, such as language studies, oral presentations, or performance-based subjects. But also for high-stakes assessments where understanding and articulation need to be demonstrated on the spot.
  • Advantages: Provides immediate feedback and clarification. Can assess a student's ability to think and respond spontaneously.
  • Limitations: May cause anxiety for some students, and requires more logistical planning and time from the educator.

Open-Book Assessments

Open-book assessments test a student's ability to find, use, and apply information rather than simply recall it. They encourage research skills and critical thinking.

  • When to use: In courses that require application of knowledge, such as law, research, and problem-solving disciplines, or when assessing the ability to synthesize information from various sources.
  • Advantages: Reduces stress associated with memorization and encourages students to learn how to locate and apply information effectively.
  • Limitations: Can be challenging to design questions that truly test understanding rather than simple lookup skills.

Best Practices for Online Assessments

Connect the Assessments to Learning Objectives

Ensure that each assessment aligns with specific learning objectives. This clarity helps students understand the purpose of the assessment and how it contributes to their overall learning goals.

Integrate Assessments Throughout the Course

Incorporate various assessments at different points in the course to continuously monitor student progress and provide timely feedback.

Offer Constructive Feedback

Provide detailed, actionable feedback that helps students understand their mistakes and how they can improve. Constructive feedback fosters a growth mindset and encourages continuous learning.

Enable Online Assessments with Digiexam

Create a seamless assessment process with the Digiexam platform. Simplify the administrative workload and provide a reliable way for educators to assess students’ performance and progress. Digiexam supports all types of online assessments in education mentioned in this article, where you can design them however you want with, but not limited to:

  • multiple choice questions
  • open-ended questions
  • multimodal design
  • text assignments
  • match and ordering.


What are the differences between an assessment, an evaluation, and a test?

  • Assessment: An assessment is a broad term that includes various methods used to evaluate, measure, and document a student's academic readiness, progress, skill acquisition, or educational needs. Assessments provide detailed information about students' knowledge and skills, guiding instructional strategies and supporting student growth. They are conducted continuously throughout the learning process, offering ongoing feedback.
  • Test: A test is a specific type of assessment that measures a student's knowledge or skills in a particular area at a specific time. Tests are structured and standardized, providing an objective snapshot of what a student knows or can do compared to benchmarks. They are commonly used for grading and are administered periodically, such as at the end of a unit or academic year.
  • Evaluation: Evaluation involves making judgments about a student's performance based on established criteria and evidence. It determines the quality and effectiveness of a student's work to assign a grade or level of achievement. Unlike assessments, which gather information for continuous improvement, evaluations focus on making final judgments about a student's learning at specific points in time.

What are the types of assessments that online learning applications typically use?

Online learning applications typically utilize a variety of assessments to evaluate student learning and progress. These types of online assessments in education include, but are not limited to:

  • diagnostic assessments
  • formative assessments
  • summative assessments
  • performance assessments
  • benchmark assessments

What is the most preferred method of conducting online assessments for educators?

The most preferred method of conducting different types of online assessments in education varies based on the instructional goals and the nature of the subject being taught. However, some widely favored methods include:

  • automated quizzes and tests
  • project-based assessments
  • interactive simulations and gamified assessments
  • video and audio submissions
  • open-ended questions and essays

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