How improving my assessment writing has made me a better instructional designer

Getting the balance right

As an instructional designer, I am constantly looking at how to achieve the perfect balance between content, engagement and assessment to achieve the best outcomes for learners. However, it can be difficult sometimes to maintain a clear focus when the subject is interesting and there are all sorts of angles I want to explore and fascinating facts I want to share. It’s tempting to include what interests me, rather than what the learner needs to know.

Aligning with learning outcomes

A few years ago we started working closely with New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) outcomes. The NZQA outcomes serve as a guide for educational journeys in New Zealand, ensuring learners achieve specific competencies that match with industry standards and educational objectives. Our task was to write assessments that were directly aligned with the learning outcomes NZQA needed to measure, allowing learners the best opportunities to demonstrate that they had understood the content and learned new skills, and were able to apply both to real-world situations.

Transforming instructional design through focused assessments

Having to focus on suitable assessments for specific learning outcomes helped me to change the way I approached instructional design.

Instead of looking at it through the lens of my own interest in the topic, I focused on the experience of the learner and the need to make sure the content I was providing led them to the learning outcomes the course promised. This led to a shift in my instructional design strategy, towards outcome-based learning that prioritised the development of specific skills and competencies, with relevant assessments that measured those outcomes directly.

Crafting courses to meet learning outcomes

Improving my assessment writing has transformed my content delivery. I have become more disciplined at designing online courses with the end goals in mind, starting with the competencies and skills that learners needed to develop, and stripping away extraneous content that does not directly contribute to these goals. A conscious focus on outcomes is particularly useful during the review and redraft stage, which is often about taking content out rather than adding more in. The end result is a course that is more streamlined and impactful.

Respecting learners’ time and attention

This change in approach is also more respectful of a learner’s time and attention, giving them a focused, clear and relevant learning experience. For example, when designing a practical course on project management, I aligned the assessment tasks with NZQA outcomes related to project planning and risk management. This alignment ensured that every piece of content delivered was directly relevant to the skills learners needed to demonstrate. With a clear focus on the desired outcomes, I could design learning activities that were informative, engaging, and directly tied to assessment tasks. This integration of assessment and learning activities ensures that learners get many opportunities to apply what they have learned in meaningful ways, reinforcing their understanding and retention of the material.

A student that is ready to be done with the assessment

Using feedback to enhance learning experiences

I’ve also found that by improving the quality of assessments, I’ve been able to use feedback from those assessment activities to further improve the overall learning experience. I can see where learners excel and where they struggle and use this data to inform how I tailor subsequent instructional materials and support. This continuous feedback loop helps learners stay on track and remain engaged with material that is always relevant and focused on learning outcomes. When assessments become learning opportunities in themselves we’re really getting somewhere.

The goal: meaningful and lasting achievement

As an instructional designer, my ultimate goal is to facilitate meaningful and lasting achievement.

Improving assessment writing has been a key step in this journey, providing me with new insights into how I can work towards that goal and giving me the satisfaction of knowing I am getting better at doing the job I love.

Are you ready to elevate your instructional design skills? Check out our course on assessment writing and learn how to create effective, outcome-based assessments that enhance learning experiences. Enrol today and start transforming your courses!

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