What are Online Assessments?

Digital transformation in education has received a key boost: online assessments. Online assessments are key to the digital transformation in modern instruction. The umbrella term includes any testing tools, capabilities or platforms hosted on the Internet. In general, online assessments can offer a reliable, responsive and flexible alternative to traditional pencil and paper testing. Advanced versions of online assessments support the testing experience end-to-end in a single platform, from content authoring, to test delivery and reporting on the results.

Digital assessments are widely used for educational purposes, whether in public K12 districts and other government institutions or private universities, to integrate student learning with digital transformation efforts. Online assessments are also utilized in the professional sphere, including healthcare and private corporations. Companies implement various online platforms to vet candidates, carry out employee training or support professional development programs or credentialing.

Types of Online Assessments

The depth of capability provided by the various types of online assessments allow organizations to evolve their traditional testing methods. Whether it’s in the classroom or a corporate training setting, assessments typically fall into 3 categories: formative, summative and a dynamic form of testing that’s typically known as “authentic.”

Formative Assessment
Formative assessment aims to modify the instruction of a program or course to adhere to current student learning data. Types of formative assessments include:
  • Discussion posts
  • Case studies or essays
  • Quizzes
Formative assessment is ongoing testing that monitors learning progress throughout a course, semester or program. This approach allows modifications to instruction in real-time, as students receive timely feedback tailored to their achievements and gaps in learning.
Summative Assessment
Summative assessment is the most popular traditional testing approach. Types of summative assessment include:
  • Midterms/finals
  • Final projects or presentations
  • Portfolios
Summative assessment captures a snapshot of what the student has learned at the end of the course. The data aligns specific goals with the students’ accomplishments and provides an evaluation in the form of a grade or a score in a formal report. Many summative tests are designed for institutional accountability, and for understanding more about whole school systems.
Authentic Assessment
Authentic assessment describes a dynamic type of testing. Authentic assessments aim to not only capture the acquisition of knowledge, but also the learner’s ability to apply that knowledge in real-world scenarios. Some examples of this application include:
  • Virtual simulations of high-priority client presentations
  • 3D geographical environments to stimulate scientific knowledge
  • Case-study based scenarios
Online assessments serve as the ideal vehicle for the authentic type of approach. In an online setting, schools and organizations can deliver real-world experiences in a risk-free way.
Key Advantages of Online Assessments

While online assessments aim to achieve the same goals as paper-and-pencil testing methods, such as enhancing student learning, there are key differences between the two. The flexibility, adaptability and scalability of digital assessments provide various benefits to K12 classrooms, higher education instruction and corporate, professional development or credentialing courses.

Benefits of Online Assessments for K12 and Higher Education
Innovation in assessment has had a considerable impact on elevating the education system. Schools, colleges and universities use online testing tools to enable holistic insight into individual student learning and instruction. Digitization has a positive impact on the student, educator and administrative experience in a number of ways, including:
  • Computer-adaptive assessments enable testing by an individual student’s ability level
  • Enabling dynamic tasks such as drawing, writing and long-form problem solving
  • Offering a more personalized and accessible method for testing
  • Cutting grading time and administrative overhead
  • Increasing accuracy of testing results while optimizing data security
  • Providing valuable data necessary to understand student problem solving, inform instruction, and develop benchmarks required for students to progress through the education system
Benefits for Businesses

Professionals, especially those in high-risk work environments, can take advantage of the real-world experiences offered by online platforms. At the same time, company stakeholders can leverage more accurate performance data, easier candidate selection, seamless credentialing, and more robust training methods.

Additional corporate benefits include the following:

  • Aligns corporate goals and objectives with training and professional development
  • Provides real-world client scenarios
  • Can help to predict training outcomes while saving time, money and overhead
  • Elevates the candidate pre-selection process in a shorter period of time
  • Offers flexibility in location and remote work while maintaining security
Features of Advanced Online Assessment Solutions

Online assessment vendors offer a myriad combinations of features and services, some more advanced than others. Therefore, there are various considerations that go into selecting the best online assessment solution for a specific audience or environment. Consider the following features that are found in the most advanced solutions in the market:


Interoperability is arguably the most important factor in any information technology. In short, interoperability “opens” the IT network to various tools and applications in a secure and user-friendly way. Interoperability acts as the framework that allows for seamless data exchange and interaction — eliminating data silos within a tech stack. The framework creates an IT environment where admins can plug in compliant tools and manage various systems and data from a centralized location.

To create an interoperable environment, organizations should implement a standard for all technology within their systems, such as the IMS Global standards. The various frameworks within the IMS Global standards allow organizations to evolve any tech product to their exact needs, easily integrate assessment tools and benefit from built-in security precautions. Some of the key standards include the following:

  • Learning Tool Interoperability (LTI
  • Question & Test Interoperability (QTI)
  • Computer Adaptive Testing (CAT)

To learn about IMS Global standards and their benefits, check out our guide on interoperability here.

Security & Scalability

Data integrity is crucial in both educational and professional spheres. Network crashes, for example, not only disrupt the user experience but may also result in detrimental data loss. Data compromises can have an especially negative impact in high-stakes situations, such as lost testing results, leaked student data, and wasted hours and resources for resolution and data recovery.

Cloud-based digital testing technologies are designed to scale to support thousands of end users at a time, without crashing or jeopardizing private data. Such scalable solutions leverage flexible infrastructures that elevate security through multi-layered encrypted data. Plus, when security and scalability are prioritized in a solution, IT teams can minimize hardware and network overhead.

A User-Friendly Interface

Particularly in high-value assessments, a positive user experience can make or break the end result. An online assessment solution must be designed with clear user journeys in mind for both the end-user and backend administration. A user-friendly interface ensures not only a streamlined experience, but minimizes hand-holding and overhead for the assessment itself.

Understanding how much technical knowledge a solution requires is also important. Depending on the technical capabilities at an institution, an interface can make or break the effectiveness of a solution. In addition, an intuitive user interface also contributes to the level of accessibility institutions can provide to their learners.


Online assessments can make inclusivity easier for institutions. To be inclusive and available to all participants, online assessments must support accessibility technology. Accessibility tools support students with physical or learning disabilities and follow the WCAG accessibility standards. Institutions should look for solutions that include the following tools and capabilities:

  • A web-based application foundation
  • Screen readers (JAWS for Windows, NVDA, or Voiceover for Mac
  • Screen magnification software and text readers
  • Speech input software and alternative input devices

Whether it’s an online college course or a nursing credentialing program, organizations must choose solutions that put accessibility first to empower a larger pool of students and professionals of various abilities.

Find out how TAO adheres to the latest WCAG accessibility standards.

Proctoring and Student-Face Security

Cheating is a major risk involved in online assessments. When operating from a remote environment, proctors or administrators have less control over the testing setting to ensure fair and accurate outcomes. That’s why organizations must select a solution that provides or integrates with advanced security and cheating prevention tools.

Advanced online assessment solutions can help instructors monitor and minimize cheating in remote environments. For example, integrations with lockdown browsers allow proctors to establish a secure and controlled environment for high-stakes testing. To further enforce security, assessment solutions should also leverage an open technology framework, which allows seamless integrations with advanced, AI-based proctoring tools.

Proctoring tools provide a layer of protection in place to reduce cheating risks and ensure ease of use when holding assessments from remote locations. Advanced solutions, like Proctorio, deliver proactive test taker supervision for a secure experience at home. This software eliminates human error, bias, and many expenses associated with proctoring and identity verification.

Learn more about remote proctoring with TAO here.

How to Choose the Right Online Assessment Platform

Online assessment platforms can help organizations create a culture of innovation. When choosing the right online assessment solution, organizations must determine and prioritize the testing needs of their audience and environment. Different types of assessments, including formative, summative and authentic, require specific authoring capabilities within the solution. Educational and professional fields also have their own needs and requirements for the content within a test.

For instance, an institution that needs to create assessments that analyze the distinctions between high and low-performing test-takers may look for a solution that follows the Computer Adaptive Testing framework. The following features and functionalities serve various needs of organizations and their testing needs — specifically when it comes to authoring accessible and effective online assessments.

An Important Consideration: Test Authoring Capabilities

Creating effective online assessments goes beyond the curriculum or program objectives. Often, it’s about the capabilities of the platform that allow program administrators to pursue innovation and yield optimal results in one. That’s why the technology at the foundation of the testing platform must offer flexibility, freedom and control.

Consider the following authoring functionalities of online assessment platforms:

Ease of Use: Online assessments should be easy to create, even for non tech-savvy individuals. Advanced authoring solutions allow instructors to set up a wide range of assessment types, from simple multiple choice questions to adaptive virtual scenarios.

Test Session Control: Assessment solutions should enable test preference settings that define and regulate testing sessions, including setting time allowances and specific tools by different parts or subsections of a test.

Rostering Capabilities: Test-taker management, such as controlled timing, content delivery and reporting, such as LMS content delivery via the LTI standard, are critical to effective assessment. Plus, the ability to create score reports for individual test-takers and designated groups allows for data segmentation and effective modeling.

Technology Enhanced Items & PCIs: An assessment solution that supports QTI framework, including Technology Enhanced Items (TEIs), provides the flexibility to create any type of assessment. TEIs enable advanced assessment such as critical thinking and problem solving.

Branching Tests: These types of tests can mimic real-world scenarios. Branching tests offer a choose-your-own-adventure approach by providing context to learning by giving choices that branch out to different consequences.

Online assessments are key to driving digital transformation. With the advancements of interactive tools and frameworks for developing a secure, streamlined user experience, learners of all types continue to benefit from this technology. From K12 to higher education students and professionals looking to advance in their field, online assessments pose new opportunities for life-long learning. By choosing the right solution, educational and professional institutions can now innovate in a more inclusive, secure, and highly effective way to advance their programs.

Want to Learn More? Download our Practical Guide to Digital Assessment or get in touch with a Solutions Specialist today!