What is the difference between an assessment platform and a VLE/LMS?

Anja Sisarica
May 12, 2020

Understandably, stakeholders in educational institutions would like to have everything that has to do with assessment in one place. They ask themselves: with a bit of customisation and a lock-down browser, why can’t we just do digital exams in our LMS/VLE? Why do we need yet another tool? 

In this article, we take a look at the key differences between Inspera Assessment and other digital learning platforms. Why can’t online assessment platforms on the one hand, and Learning Management System (LMS) or Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) solutions, such as Moodle, Canvas, Blackboard or Vklass on the other, be used in the same way? 

The short answer is: different platforms are built with different purposes, and therefore have different strengths. VLE/LMS platforms are great for online training, communication between students and teachers, distribution of content and collaboration during the course. An assessment platform, like Inspera Assessment, provides that functionality as well, but it is furthermore specifically designed to securely support all processes and tasks related to assessment. While learning and assessment are tightly connected, the requirements to the platforms that support them are not the same. Read on to learn how to best handle your high-stakes, large-scale digital exams.

End-to-end online assessment solution - See the bigger picture of the assessment lifecycle

Inspera Assessment supports the entire examination process for all academic and administrative users: from planning and design, to delivery, marking, and finally, sharing of results and improvement. There is customised role support for all of these users contributing to the student experience within an institution: Authors, Markers, Planners, Invigilators, Chief Invigilators, Administrators, Reporters. VLE/LMS solutions often lack such refinement in roles and associated support to workflows.

To respond to the quality standards of high-stakes examinations, Inspera Assessment has advanced functionalities that connect all parts of the organisation and their workflows. The platform contributes to an organisationally-led rather than individually-led digital transformation, which provides more complete and reliable results in the long term. Learn more here.

Scalability - Standards compliance and integrations for the variety of curriculum needs and large-scale exam days

Some LMS/VLE solutions offer quizzes and tests on the uploaded content, and these can be great tools for monitoring progress and self-assessment. However, when it comes to high-stakes exams that count towards the final grade, universities and schools, as a rule, have assessment standards that require more complex and diverse test designs to appropriately assess knowledge, skills and understanding.

To that end, Inspera Assessment has 30+ native questions types that correspond to different subject-matter needs and advanced exam authoring requirements: written examinations, oral examinations, performance examinations; summative, formative or diagnostic examinations. Specialised third-party software is sometimes needed in the examination, or in administration to set up an exam. Our standards compliance and open APIs ensure interoperability and more integrated assessment experience. You can explore the options here.

Scalability is not only about the breadth, but also about the depth - in other words, the number of deliveries and users that a system can sustain at any given time. Universities and schools often have thousands of students taking an exam at the same time. To do that in a reliable and efficient way, with no service incidents or panic, requires a robust solution like Inspera Assessment. In 2019, we managed over 2 million exam submissions in over 70 institutions across the globe, with the figures growing exponentially. Such stability on large-scale exam days is simply not possible if supported only by VLE/LMS delivery infrastructure.

Security - Fair assessment on all devices, for both open-book and closed-book exams

Without security measures in place, assessments will be susceptible to cheating. And, the more high-stakes a test is, the more likely it is that learners will attempt to "cheat the system". When designing new test forms in Inspera Assessment, item production can be streamlined through robust item banking. And, to minimise cheating and exposure, items can be automatically assembled through data-driven test construction features, such as linear-on-the-fly (LOFT) and adaptive testing, or random pulling of items.

One of the ways Inspera Assessment ensures security on any device is with a lock-down internet browser, such as Inspera Safe Exam Browser (SEB). A lock-down browser restricts access to local software and files, and only allows access to whitelisted (online) resources. Sometimes it is possible to add a lock-down browser to quizzes and tests run within VLE/LMS. But there are other security factors, such as system infrastructure, monitoring, and registration scalability that make that solution not sustainable.

To enhance exam security, Inspera Assessment also offers a remote proctoring add-on for its platform, called Inspera Remote Exam. Finally, post-delivery, there is a variety of plagiarism checks integrations available that ensure exam validity in Inspera Assessment.

Pedagogical impact - Advanced learning analytics and marking support

When marking exam submissions in Inspera Assessment, its advanced annotations allow the marker to efficiently insert criteria-based marks and follow mark schemes. The marker can provide feedback to students and discuss the submission in many different communication channels, including collaboration with groups, external markers and moderators. That way, educators can ensure that the assessment is connected with the desired learning outcomes, and that the feedback is appropriately discussed with the students to support learning. Such advanced marking support is not available in VLE/LMS solutions.

Finally, something that is truly unique about Inspera Assessment is its commitment to innovation in assessment design and development, which is reflected in the work of our R&D team. They are developing learning analytics to give insights not only on the student performance, but the exam performance as well as the question performance. Such material for reflection and improvement bridges the gap between summative and formative assessment and allows for a greater pedagogical impact of digital exams. Learn more here.

So which platform should I choose?

Your choice of platform surely depends on how well it will serve your purposes. The requirements can be established by asking questions such as: “Which functionalities do we need to improve the learning and exam experience for each stakeholder group”? And: "How can we securely deliver these functionalities?". 

VLE/LMS platforms are widely used to effectively give students open access to information, online learning, and resources connected with their studies. For such purposes, a VLE/LMS solution is often a good choice for a consistent interface within the institution. For assessment purposes, a cloud-based assessment platform, like Inspera Assessment, can more effectively support your organisations’ entire examination cycle on-screen. The strengths of the different solutions are outlined below: 

Assessment platform LMS

Best used for: 

  • Formative assessment
  • Summative assessment
  • Open and closed book exams 
  • Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) exams, at-home testing and on-site exams

Best used for: 

  • Quizzes and tests
  • Formative assessment
  • Peer review

Functionalities include: 

  • Plan and schedule assessments
  • Design exam paper, author and bank items, enable aids and access arrangements
  • Deliver online and offline tests 
  • Detect cheating and protect the exam integrity with plagiarism control and online proctoring.
  • Mark and produce feedback
  • Collaboration with other colleagues 
  • Share results and feedback
  • Automatically display statistics on test takers and grades
  • Give test takers a fair and unbiased evaluation

Functionalities include: 

  • Publish learning resources 
  • Curriculum mapping and planning
  • Collaboration and communication during courses
  • Wikis and blogs
  • Tracking of learner activity and progress
  • The course syllabus
  • Administrative information about the ongoing course
  • Links to outside sources 
  • Interactive online whiteboard for live virtual classes


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