Higher education assessments: Top three trends shaping the future

Grant Beevers
November 23, 2022

As technology shapes society it also dramatically impacts how people prepare for their professional careers. Studying for up to five years for a degree or similar qualification, largely on campus and with traditional assessment methods, is no longer the best or most desirable option.

There are two main reasons for this. First, the relationship between students, industry and higher education institutions has become more important, with an increased focus on employability. Curriculums and assessments are being adapted to help fill jobs, particularly where there is a skills shortage or where upskilling is required for careers with low unemployment levels. This can often involve students simultaneously combining workplace learning with academic study.

Secondly, there is a shift towards more authentic and inclusive ways of assessing students who don’t want to be, or can’t be, on campus. For example, in Australia the fastest growing student demographic is single female parents who want to study to progress their careers but also need to work and care for their children. Institutions are also looking to attract international students who are unable to move to another country and disabled students who could utilise the accessibility benefits of remote learning and assessments.

Institutions are beginning to rethink which assessment models work best in today’s world. To help make this decision, let’s look at three of the key trends.

Trend 1:
Move towards new assessment types – e.g. formative and programmatic

Academics have argued for years that summative assessment isn’t the best option. It offers students one way to demonstrate their knowledge (usually classroom-based) which favours some students over others, depending on their learning styles. It also prevents educators from feeding back to students on an ongoing basis to hone and maximise their individual skills and knowledge. 

Institutions are beginning to favour formative assessments across the length of a course. With this format, educators can continually adjust their approach according to gaps in students’ knowledge and deliver a more holistic understanding of a subject. The variety and frequency of assessment types also reduces the likelihood of malpractice. 

Institutions are also exploring programmatic assessment, which is a mixed method of assessment across and within different subject matters and concepts, where pass or fail is not given on a single data point. For example, a Bachelor of Business Studies would include holistic assessments that encompass all separate subjects within that discipline (e.g. basic accounting, P&L) rather than assessing these topics separately. Programmatic assessments provide more workplace-related, vocational, modular learning suited to an individual’s career goals.

There are a number of learning technologies that enable institutions to deliver formative and programmatic assessments, which leads us onto the second trend.

Trend 2:
Increased levels of innovation – improving authenticity, flexibility and security

While video lectures and virtual classrooms are nothing new, there has been an acceleration in the uptake of technologies that enable remote interactivity. According to McKinsey research "How technology is shaping learning in higher education", technologies that enable connectivity and community building, such as social media–inspired discussion platforms and virtual study groups, saw the biggest uptick in use. 

There has also been increased uptake of augmented reality and virtual reality tools as well as AI adaptive course delivery, which tailors course content to a student’s knowledge level and abilities. Other areas being explored include communities, online group work, machine learning-powered teaching assistants and interactive platform-based classroom exercises, as shown in this McKinsey diagram:mckinsey

Illustration by McKinsey&Company

To deliver these innovative ways of teaching and assessing, you need new business models, which takes us onto the third trend.

Trend 3:
Innovative business models – hybrid, hyflex and micro-credentials

Although the hybrid model was commonly in use prior to the pandemic, we’ve seen the pendulum swing towards online assessments and away from campus-based assessments. Increasingly, students are realising the benefits of mixing in-person learning with remote learning.

The big sister of the hybrid model is the emerging hyflex (hybrid-flexible) model, which allows students to join physical assessments remotely so everyone has the same experience, at the same time. This supports the move towards equitable and inclusive learning and makes institutions more attractive to a wider pool of students.

Finally, there’s the micro-credentials model which empowers students to build their qualifications and skillset in a customised way, relevant for their chosen career path. Students can combine assessments across different disciplines from different providers. It’s particularly suited to students working in sectors where there is low unemployment who want to be able to upskill without having to take three-to-five-year courses on a campus.

How fast can you move?

Although there is a trend away from the logistical inefficiencies of manual, physical assessments towards a faster, more secure digital process, some institutions are moving faster than others. The institutions that adopt digital assessment platforms and learn how to remain on top of these changes will position themselves for growth and success.To keep ahead of the trends in education and find out how your business could benefit from the transformation to digital, get in touch with our digital assessment consultants.

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