Qualitative Vs. Quantitative Methods of Verification and Evaluation

Imagine you are a software engineer working on developing a new app. You are really excited, your app has been released, people download and use it. The next step is to verify and evaluate the app to know how consumers rate it and based on this data, how you can make it even better!

Running an online course is a similar process. Once you design and create the course, one of your goals is to find out if the course objectives meet the course outcomes. In other words, if your students learnt what you expected them to learn.

From learning outcomes to learning evaluation

This is one of the very first steps taken when starting your course design. Course objectives are what you want your students to learn, whilst course learning outcomes are the actual demonstration of their new knowledge and skills. If objectives and outcomes meet, you’ve done an awesome job! Course objectives and course outcomes are the base for evaluation and verification at the end of your course.

Quick Example: A learning objective is formulated as what your students will learn, will understand, will think about, etc. “Students will understand fundamental principles of …”. On the other hand, a learning outcome is formulated as an end result which can be measured, evaluated or observed, such as students will demonstrate knowledge, will be able to explain and use, will be able to apply, will give examples, etc. “Students will be able to apply the fundamental principles to problem-solving”. Did you spot the difference?

Activity as a tool for evaluation

Activities are a crucial part of teaching and learning when students become actively involved in their learning. They create a great opportunity to link the course content with real life and personal experiences to demonstrate skills of analysis, evaluation and creativity. At the same time, they demonstrate their skills, knowledge and thinking which you can evaluate and verify.

The activity, in essence, can be seen from two perspectives:

  • As a crucial aspect of learning: developing students’ higher level thinking and deep learning based on experience
  • As feedback and information for the teacher: how the student understood the content and how they’ve been able to analyse, synthesise, and evaluate the content. The type of information the teacher gathers depends on the activity instruction.

Activity instructions can be presented in two ways:

  • Quantitative (measurable) Methods of Evaluation: “Tell me WHAT you learnt”. Examples: questionnaires, revision questions, quizzes, etc.
  • Qualitative Methods of Evaluation: “Show me HOW you can apply, synthesynthesiseuate and design what you’ve learnt” Examples: essays, focus groups, scenarios, projects, case studies, artefacts, personal experiences, introspection, visual texts, portfolios, direct observation, role play or simulation, etc.

Quick Example: Learning to Drive. The course contains the theory of driving – traffic signs, traffic rules, providing first aid, etc. As a method of evaluation, you implement an exam consisting of revision questions. If your student scores 100%, this result indicates that the content of the course was clear, understandable and efficient. It indicates the knowledge your student has acquired.

So what is the indicator of skills? Direct observation of real driving. Revision questions, as a method, provide a message that the student knows the theory. Direct observation goes further, as this method indicates that the student knows the theory and is able to use it as a real skill.

Holistic Approach to Student’s Learning 

It is widely believed that quantitative evaluation methods are more reliable and valid than qualitative ones. It is true that they are easier to replicate and administer. However, they do not provide a holistic overview of a student’s learning and thinking.

As you could see in the example above, quantitative methods focus on knowledge. If you decide to go further and implement qualitative methods, you can see how your students can use and apply their knowledge. You not only gain a deeper insight, but also help students develop higher-level thinking skills!

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Quick Example: Let’s say, you’ve designed a course about Fashion Design in Wedding Dresses. How can you evaluate students’ learning? You can give them a quiz on sewing, quiz on cutting, a quiz on embroidering, and then a final quiz on everything. Or, you can let them create their own dress. What could creating a dress indicate? Whether a student has mastered enough skills to become an expert and skilled designer. The type of wedding dress a student creates give you an instant insight into exactly how much information your students have learnt, analysed, evaluated and put into practice. For instance, cutting skills can be an extremely boring practice. But implementing cutting into actually creating their very own wedding dress becomes a necessary skill students want to learn. Because without cutting there would be no dress!

Using both methods can be extremely beneficial for students and teachers in terms of effective teaching and learning. Both of these approaches provide students with different experiences as well as provide you with different information about students’ knowledge and skills.

Implementing qualitative methods of evaluation can significantly enrich your students experience and their learning!

What are your thoughts on qualitative and quantitative evaluation? Share your ideas in the comments area below!