Topic 1 Definition of formative and summative assessment in digital context


Assessment is an integral part of any education and training activity. It should trace learning path of learners assuring that learning objectives and instructional strategies are understood, met and correctly applied. Learning objectives responds on questions concerning what we want students/trainees to know when they leave our course, while instructional strategies should respond on questions what tasks will reinforce learning objective. Assessment is mostly concerned with tasks indicating the levels of learning achievement.

Assessment may be implemented through formative and/or summative form in both digital and offline setting. Formative assessment is used to monitor ongoing students/tutees learning process, while summative is used to evaluate overall students learning achievement/results.

Formative assessment assists students to identify their strengths, weaknesses and distinctively target areas in which they should work more, while summative can help both teachers/adult educators (and institutional providers of adult education including Universities) and students to guide their efforts in subsequent courses development and delivery. Types of formative assessment can draw a concept map to represent understanding of topic or identifying the main point of a lecture in one or two sentence while summative assessment may for instance be final project evaluation or midterm exam.

What do/can we as adult educators most commonly assess during a training or teaching?

In the context of the material what adult educators most often try to grade/give a narrative feedback, or provide a combination of the two, are the following:

Knowledge (learning what to do)

Skills (learning how to do)

Collaboration (learning how to do/live together)

Values that influence our formed attitudes (learning to be)

Can digitalization as a process and the use of digital tools as its output, assist adult educator to become better assessors? And is it so, that since collecting data during the learning process exists, that the summative assessment is no longer needed?

In the age where evidence and data are everywhere around us, this may indeed seem logical. And yet, this is so only if adult educators master the how to use the collected data in an efficient way.

If effectively used, digital assessments overall core benefits may indeed be of huge importance to both learner and the educator as it:

❑ Makes teachers/adult educators work more efficient (automatic assessment of knowledge through Multiple Choice Quizzes), but also degerming:

❑ Enables self (ipsative) assessment that enables an individual learner to challenge his/herself in terms of measuring their own progress against the set benchmarks (e.g. Mahara tool), and

❑ Thrives towards efficient peer feedback/teaching/learning which provide a game element as motivator for further learning (e.g. Peerwise, Peergrade).

Formative assessment in digital context:

Do we as adult educator want to trace our learners experience of the learning process and its outputs in real time? Do we want to be able to modify the learning process in real time and in any way in order to adjust the learning path to better suit individual and/or group current knowledge, skills, competences and attitudes? If the answer to these questions is yes, then we should be using a type of formative (digital) assessment.


❑ Calls for timely action for learners benefit (essentially learners centric assessment)

❑ Captivating and/or introducing changes needed during the learning process in real time

❑ Tailoring learner’s experience based on what they know, do not know and are willing/want to learn

❑ Getting the feedback quickly even if assessment is done over the longer period

❑ Demonstrate knowledge gained in small sections that is easier to manifest

❑ Possibility to fail and not necessarily get a bad final remark

❑ Guiding the user towards further learning opportunities

❑ Reflection and immediate feedback


❑ Availability of learners devices

❑ Duration of a learning process

❑ Educator devotion to careful design, monitoring, and the communication of feedback to learners in a clear and meaningful timeframe

❑ Continuous learning and engagement of the learner

❑ Potentially stressful experiences for both learner and educator

Summative assessment in digital context:

For the most part, summative assessment represents one off, integrated and holistic feedback on learners progress in a specific timeframe (final exam, final report). It is applied at the end of a learning process, training duration, etc. Even though, digitalization and its tools enabled formative collection of data on learners progress, summative assessment remains relevant in degerming relevant position of a learner within the learners community in a particular setting and it remains to be widely used in adult education and training.  


❑ Less biased form of assessment

❑ May be more efficient for some learners and most educators

❑ Learner may learn at his/her own pace towards the final assessment date


❑ Lowering engagement and empowerment of a learner in the learning process

❑ May showcase discrepancy in terms of real and performed knowledge on the exact test date

❑ Less dynamic form of assessment

❑ Less authentic form of assessment (technically educator may assess a learner he has never seen)

Categories of formative (digital) assessment include self assessment, peer assessment, co-assessment (provided by the learner and educator together) and educators assessment while normally only the last one is present in the summative (digital) assessment.

Validation, reliability and dishonesty remain key issues in application of both formative and summative digital assessments.

With respect to assessment methodology, different approaches with different pros and cons can be adopted, depending on one’s goals and targeted users (e.g. population at large, specific worker categories etc.), circumstances and available resources (settings):

  • Self-assessment questions, where individuals are asked to evaluate how well they perform with reference to related tasks and what they think they learnt about the specific issues
  • Knowledge-based tests where individuals are presented with realistic problems in a variety of real-life situations and they have to indicate what they would do in a given situation, what would happen in reality etc.
  • Performance-based evaluation where users are requested to actually solve challenges in digital space, reflecting real situations that they may face and entailing the use of tools such as browsers, word processors, spreadsheets etc.
  • A mix of the above methods

Write down a list of assessment methods that you usually choose to engage during teaching. If you teach using digital environments e.g. e-learning platforms, you should identify the different learning assessments used.

Which type/s of assessment/s has the greatest impact on your learners? Write them down and then discuss reasoning with your colleagues.

Digital data on learner’s progress by using both formative and summative assessment

Recording data on the learner’s progress in digital era is done in many shapes and forms. These most often include google docs (forms), and other similar ways available for data storage.

Data collected from summative assessment normally include figures, graphs and tables which indicate on the overall trends in education and training/personal learning progress and are commonly used for analysis achievement trends among learners, on the level of generation etc. These are called macrodata and these are telling the story about educational/training outcomes.

On the other side, if an adult educator would like to understand why the outcomes and trends are going in certain direction, greater focus on analysis of microdata is needed. The microdata are gained through formative digital assessment that may showcase the existing learning process gaps that need our further attention/modification. Moreover, today the concept of “assessment of learning” even becomes “learning-oriented assessment” (LOA) that is to support lifelong learning of an adult learner and prepare this person for assuming life/work related responsibilities. 

If used jointly and effectively, both macro and micro assessment data shall provide for greater quality of education and training.

Key remaining issue of concern is the adherence to data protection legal framework that must not be ignored in the given context. 

Overview of digital assessment

Top Digital Learning Assessment Tools

How to use digital technology to energize teaching, learning and assessment

Top Digital Learning Assessment Tools

Qucik tips how to use fromative assessments

Seven strategies for using formative assessments in online learning

This topic was an introduction to the assessment in online and offline surroundings with an aim to present an overview and a description of the main characteristics of both formative and summative assessments used in adult education and training in order to make adult educators reflect on the effectiveness and possibly also efficiency of their use in different digital forms in order to improve the quality teaching and learning services provided.