Evaluation of learning materials is usually integrated in the overall learning design and development plan. It is considered to be a vital component of a quality assurance strategy and the expectation is that evaluation activities can contribute significantly to the development of quality learning materials.
The purpose is often to get an idea of how well the materials are aligned to the intended learning outcomes and how well they support students in achieving these outcomes. Additional questions may be: how accessible the materials are, how the students are using the materials, how up to date the content is, whether the learning text is based on sound learning principles.
When to evaluate
Evaluation can be conducted during each phase of the design and development process, during the post development period when students are using the learning materials for the first time, and as part of a review of a course or programme. Where the development of the materials has been sponsored, it is normal practice to evaluate the materials and provide the funder with an evaluation report.
What methods can you use?
The most common methods used are qualitative in nature. The philosophy, which underpins the qualitative approach, is one that stresses the importance of the experience of individuals and their reflection on their experience as ways of constructing social reality. The responses to the materials from the perspective of the learner, the facilitator and an external reviewer can offer a comprehensive insight into the learning value of the materials. Responses are elicited by means of specially designed questionnaires and instruments, which the various parties complete. Evaluation instruments are usually based on an agreed set of criteria.
Interviews with learners, facilitators, and learning material developers can be used to probe particular areas. Quantitative methods can be useful in pinpointing learner behaviour in specific areas, e.g. learner interaction with the learning activities: how many students complete all the activities, which activities are left out, which activities present difficulties. The purpose of the evaluation determines the kind of methods that are most suitable.
Toolkits as an Approach to Evaluating and Using Learning Materials
This paper describes the development of a web-based evaluation toolkit, which supports practitioners in the effective and appropriate use and evaluation of learning materials.