How to Write Good eLearning Questions?

Wherever there’s learning, we often need some kind of assessment. While learning analytics have evolved considerably over the past few years, often the easiest method to try to capture learning is through asking questions. However, it’s good to keep in mind other formative assessment methods, that might be better in evaluating long-term learning outcomes. Regardless, there are certain elements to asking questions as well. Naturally, you’ll want to be sure that you’re evaluating learning, not just the ability to regurgitate facts or recall statistics. Thus, we put together a quick guide on how to write good eLearning questions. Here you go!

1. Align your questions with the learning objectives

Whenever you’re writing questions, you should keep in mind what the learning objectives of the activity are. When going through subject matter and material, it’s easy to pick on certain things (especially facts, figures, numbers) in the hopes that they would make good questions. However, often these questions don’t go beyond the trivial level, and thus don’t support the learning goals either. Overall, we should focus on the use of knowledge, rather than the ability to recall content. Hence, you should focus on writing eLearning questions that require understanding the concepts and ideas, as well as practical applications.

2. Use a variety of question types

Simple multiple or single choice questions are probably the most used ones. However, there’s no reason you should limit yourself to those. Question types like drag-and-drop, fill-the-blanks, sorting activities and open-ended questions all work well and are easy to execute. The added variety has two benefits. Firstly, it may help in engagement. Instead of mindlessly clicking through alternatives, learners have to focus on the questions type first, and then the content. When you get people to focus, they are more careful, which means you’ll get better answers. Secondly, using multiple different eLearning question enables you to ask about the same thing from different perspectives and in different ways. This helps to really understand whether the learners truly understood the concept or are just working with surface level knowledge.

3. Keep the questions clear and concise, avoid negative

The aim of assessment should naturally be to test whether someone has understood your content. Now, if your learners have trouble already understanding the questions, you’ll just make everyone frustrated. The learners are having trouble answering and you can’t be sure whether it was the content or the question that wasn’t understood. So, keep your eLearning questions clear and concise. Avoid ambiguity, “circling around” and unnecessary detail, and be direct.

Also, you should try to avoid negative phrasing of questions wherever possible. Studies show that negatively phrases questions are more difficult to understand and thus result in more frequent mistakes.

4. Provide valid answer options without free clues

This is probably the part where it’s the easiest to cut corners when you’re under a time pressure. When designing the alternatives that the learner is supposed to pick from (in e.g. a multiple choice question), we’ll naturally already have the question and the right answer ready. It’s probably easy to just come up with random options for the wrong answers, which are also referred to as distractors. But you really shouldn’t do that.

Good assessment tries to eliminate the possibilities of guessing. We often say that “it’s not the correct but the incorrect answers that determine real knowledge”. By providing “bad” alternatives or silly distractors, you’re effectively making it a whole lot easier to pick the right answer from the rest. So, ensure that all the options could at least seem plausible to someone who had not learned the topic. Also, make sure that all your alternatives are roughly the same length and same phrasing. We human beings instinctively look for visual cues when trying to solve problems. By keeping things uniform, you’re not giving away unnecessary free clues.

Final words

Overall, writing good eLearning questions is not rocket science by any measure. A good rule of thumb that encapsulates a lot of the previously said would be “keep it clear and don’t try to trick the learner”. It’s very easy to sabotage one’s own “data set” by asking silly questions, but that only comes back to haunt you as an L&D professional, as you won’t get an accurate picture of the knowledge and skill levels in your organisation. So, the next time you’re designing an eLearning quiz, keep these 4 points in mind!

More Learning Ideas