Everyone has that one friend who’s an over-talker. The one that corners you at work or on the phone and just won’t shut up about work, gossip or the results of the latest Buzzfeed quiz.

You can’t get a word in edgewise, so you what do you do?

You tune them out. By the time they’ve run out of steam, you’re frustrated and annoyed. You can’t wait escape, you certainly have no idea what they just blathered on about and you’ve lost a good chunk of your day!

In friendship and in online learning, over-talking is the least effective road to success. Communication isn’t a one-way street. You’re not a lecturer, standing at a podium shouting your ideas at a blank wall of students. Instead, think of yourself as a conversationalist, speaking and listening in equal measure. It’s a two-way street: you offer your ideas, then you invite feedback.

One easy, effective way to establish this two-way communication is what we call “assessment.”

What’s assessment?

At its most basic, assessment is a follow up survey that your student completes at intervals throughout your course. Think of it as marking your child’s height against the wall as he grows up!

It can ask questions specific to the material with the goal of helping the student retain that information – like homework.

It can also ask questions about the student’s personal reaction to and opinion of what they’ve just learned – like journaling.

And it can ask questions about the student’s views on course itself – like a customer feedback survey.

Follow up surveys through email are great, but assessments add an even more personal touch at every milestone moment throughout your course. The most effective assessments will have a little taste of all three types of questions above, and should be included at the end of every course chapter or each major topic.

Why use assessments?

Setting up feedback surveys within every section of your course might sound like a lot of busy work, but it’s incredibly helpful both to you and your students. Here’s what it does:

Assessment creates a personal investment in your students

Instead of passively consuming your material, you’re requiring students to be actively engaged. Assessments force them to think critically about what they’re learning, identify their own reaction to it, and document it.

Assessments should include open-ended questions like “What are the most important insights you took away from this lesson?” and “How does this topic relate to you?” This forces your students to draw a personal connection to the material you’ve presented.

This investment of time and mind-energy helps students retain information and strengthens the bond your student has with your course. And that builds loyalty, which is, of course, valuable for you.

Assessment keeps students motivated to continue your course

As their teacher, professor, or fearless leader, it’s your job to guide your students through your course and do whatever it takes to help them succeed. Assessment is a fantastic way to achieve that, because it’s a natural motivator.

How?

Repeated assessments establish a pattern of learning followed by positive reflection. When you ask your students to focus on what they’ve accomplished – whether it’s basic woodcarving or shuffling a deck of cards – it creates positive feelings.

When you ask how students can connect the material to their lives, it creates a feeling of motivation and “I can do this.”

Let’s create a hypothetical A/B test. One of the students in your intro to cooking course learns how to roast a perfect chicken without any assessment after the lesson.

Another student learns the same information, but in their assessment, they’re asked: “For what special occasion do you plan to test out your chicken roasting skills?”

This student’s mind is suddenly propelled from the information she’s just received to the personal applications in her own life. She’s thinking about her grandmother’s birthday, or an upcoming date with her new boyfriend, and she’s filled with good feelings. She’s the student who will be more motivated to continue to the next lesson.

We’re not saying assessment is addictive, but…okay, maybe we are. It gets you hooked!

There’s a fantastic productivity method that Jerry Seinfeld once shared with a young comedian. He revealed that he uses a calendar to force himself to write jokes every day. When he writes, he draws a big X over that day. When he doesn’t write, there’s no X. After getting a few Xs in a row, he doesn’t want to “break the chain,” and he’s motivated to continue writing to see the chain grow.

Your students’ assessments are like the Xs, and they won’t want to “break the chain.”

When you motivate your students, there are other, benefits, too. Did you know that students who graduate your course have a higher lifetime value for you than those who drop out or refund?

Assessment gives you honest insights to improve or adjust your course

One of the major benefits of assessment is the data it provides you. And beyond data that’s purely dry or demographic, you’re getting real, personal insights straight from your students’ hearts and minds.

Here’s how to get that information! (And check out more tips on using customer data to improve your course.)

Wondering what parts of your course are giving students trouble? Ask! Find out what information is difficult or confusing, then go back and rework it. Maybe it needs more detailed explanation, or the language needs to be changed. Whatever the problem, you can trust your students to identify it for you.

Curious how you could market your material to new audiences? Your current students can tell you! Ask what industry they’re in, and how they’re planning to use your information. You may be surprised that your students are already applying your knowledge in directions you haven’t thought of yet. You can take this data and use it to grow your market.

Why not just email a customer survey to get this kind of feedback?

Customer surveys are fantastic, and we highly recommend them. But they can put students in a specific mindframe that doesn’t lend itself to personal sharing. Your students will write more thoughtful, honest answers if you frame your assessment as a moment of personal growth instead of a boring marketing form. Think of it as writing in a diary versus responding to a cold-call survey.

Not to mention, honest answers are crucial to the usefulness of your data. In 1999, Sony held a focus group about their new yellow Walkman (remember those? Think back to the caveman times). Participants were asked their opinion on the color, and the response was overwhelmingly positive.

Then, at the end of the focus group, everyone was offered a free Walkman to take home. How many people chose a yellow Walkman?

None of them, of course! They all chose the black version, completely undermining what they had just told the Sony marketers.

Establish your assessments for maximum honesty – not focus group hivemind – and you’ll discover helpful, useful insights you can actually use.

Assessment gives your students a true view of their growth

By nature, we’re not great at comparing ourselves “now” and “then.” It’s possible to take a course and not really grasp that you know far more information at the end than you did at the start. The knowledge becomes a part of you, and it’s hard to remember when it wasn’t.

It’s a tricky little effect we call achievement blindness.

It’s like preparing for your annual work review. You’re supposed to bring in examples of successes you’ve had over the past year, except you can’t think of any. Even if you’ve been running around busier than ever and have accomplished so much, your brain has a hard time recalling what new and different projects you completed over the last 12 months.

Now, if you kept an ongoing journal of your successes, you’d be able to look back at the end of the year and see exactly what you’d done, no question about it.

It’s the same way with your course. Force your students to log what they’re learning – repeating it and reacting to it. Then, when they’ve graduated, they’ll be able to look back and see precisely where they were when they started and how far they’ve come.

All thanks to you!

Assessment increases the value of your course

This perception of achievement isn’t just valuable for your students’ psyches. It’s valuable for you, too.

Without proof of growth, your students may question whether your course was worth the time and money they invested.

With proof of growth in the form of detailed assessments that track their journey from start to finish, your students will see and understand the value. Your $500 course is definitely worth it – but you have to make sure you show your students why.

What did they learn? How did they grow? Look what they know now that they didn’t know before! When your students can see that clearly, it can lead to repeat business – because they can see that your course changed them for the better. Don’t waste any opportunity to show your students how they’ve progressed.

Like marking your child’s height on the wall, regular assessment is a smart way to track the baby steps of growth that your student experiences. Each small advancement is an accomplishment in itself, and it all adds up to something big.

But if you don’t take the time to stop and measure, your students will have grown up before your eyes without proof of where they started.

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