Multiple-choice, a heritage from a mass-production age4 min read

logo-hva-internationaalSome great news: the Amsterdam university of Applied sciences (Hogeschool van Amsterdam –HvA-) will be using our e-learning platform for one of their courses in the very near future. This is good news for our company as we have a new client, but also good news for the HvA as our technology enables them to offer their students the very best when it comes to e-learning.

In contrary to our innovative e-learning platform, most e-learning is still limited to multiple-choice (MC) questions. Multiple-choice is a very common way of assessing one’s knowledge and is used widely across the world. This might not seem to be a very big problem at first sight and considering it is used so broadly, it can’t be that bad at all? But let me highlight two distinct points why multiple-choice is far from the optimal solution in e-learning.

  1. MC has never been a good way of testing. The test was invented in 1914 by Professor Kelly. This very same professor said the following about the same test: “This is a test of lower order thinking for the lower orders.” Well, not really a compliment one would say, to put it in an euphemistic way. We all did some MC-tests in our lifetime, and nobody wants to belong to the lower orders. The test was invented in a time of war, when hundreds of thousands of immigrants in the US needed to be educated in the most effective way so that they could start working in the factories that needed them as soon as possible. It’s an invention that suits the at that time up and coming age of mass-production. Around the same time, high-school became mandatory for two years (in the US), so the test became a mass-production tool in itself. Now our educational system seems to be stuck with something that was purely a short-term solution from an age we don’t associate ourselves with anymore. Which is nothing strange, as our society does not resemble this age anymore.
  2. It’s not e-learning. 8 of 9 letters in the term e-learning spell ‘learning’, but MC is by construction not a tool for learning. MC questions and answers will give student and teacher a score on how well the test has been made. Let’s say for example that 70% of the questions are answered correctly, this is a passing grade, but the remaining 30% is the interesting part! Advanced e-learning software can really identify what knowledge is still missing with a particular student because of the interpretation and analysis of open answers.  It’s way mote interesting to know what kind of mistake is being made than simply that a mistake is made. With that information, the software (and teacher!) can provide adequate feedback, tips and hints for further learning. MC might be a tool for quick-and-dirty testing, but it will never be a real learning tool.

But what about the pros of MC? Yeah, it’s easy to make if you’re a programmer and easy to correct if you’re a teacher. However, for me personally, I really hope that both programmers and teachers in my surroundings did not choose their profession because they want to have an ‘easy’ professional life. Programmers, like the ones we have at SOWISO, should strive for creating innovative new technologies. Teachers, like the one’s that are involved with our company, should aim for the highest when it comes to the custom needs of their pupils. If you express yourself in your day to day job in such a creative and demanding way, this will really help our society as a whole on a welfare-level (innovative technology and a higher educated population add to economic productivity) and on a well-being level (flexibility, creativity and personalized education/attention will make us happy)!

To wrap up, there is one example that multiple-choice can make us happy. Or at least, it made me smile. It was a Facebook-post from a high school student: “Still shocked by the fact that all 50 correct answers on my multiple-choice test where ‘A’. I love my teacher!”

Do you want to know more about the particular project we are doing with the HvA? Please contact us.

The information on the MC comes from a very inspiring book, or rather pamphlet, called ‘stop stealing dreams’. It’s an idea, promoted by the kind of teacher that will never use a MC-test, but the kind that you really want for your children. More information can be found here.