It’s an old saw that teaching something truly demonstrates whether you understand it. And eLearning creates opportunities to assess learners’ knowledge and skills in just this way.

The perfunctory multiple-choice tests that populate much eLearning can be easy to defeat; some reveal the answers in feedback, then allow learners to retake the test. But even the best multiple choice test is a limited instrument, which is why many instructors seek better ways to assess learners’ mastery of material.

Technology—in the form of the ubiquitous smartphone—offers a solution. While asking each student to teach a lesson might be impractical in a conventional classroom, learners using mobile and virtual classrooms can put their mobile devices to work to show—and share—their newly acquired knowledge via an instructional video.  

Most eLearning participants have access to a smartphone; many use one to complete their eLearning. And smartphones can be used to record video. So, rather than send written questions to answer or require a multiple-choice quiz, some instructors ask learners to solve a problem or explain a concept—on video. Thus the “test” is a short video or set of photos that the learner creates, documenting himself as he completes each step of a procedure or “teaches” a concept.

Who uses video assignments to assess learning?

“A video tells me within minutes if a student truly grasps the concept,” physics professor Rhett Allain wrote in an article for WIRED, “The Best Way to Test Students? Make Them Explain It On Video.” Using a combination of written assessments and video assignments, Allain wrote, allows him to know which students understand critical concepts and which students do not. He views the videos and assigns grades. Students who are dissatisfied with their grades may try again, submitting a new video. Each video must be under five minutes. It’s not only a way for him to evaluate students’ learning; according to Allain, students have reported that making the videos helps them learn the concepts better.

Allain is not alone; Comcast applies the “see one, do one, teach one” model with corporate learners, requiring a video to demonstrate their mastery of the training material. Comcast’s training process for some new hires includes ride-alongs with more experienced technicians and supervised practice. Then, when the new engineers are ready to apply their training in the field, they record a video or take still photos as they work through a newly taught process. Managers and trainers use that documentation to verify that the engineers are completing tasks correctly.

Photo and video demonstrations have also replaced some formal written exams that were required for promotions, and according to Guy Sellwood, VP of Americas for Prosell Learning, the switch has been warmly embraced by the employees. Many of the engineers excel at their work, but they learned English as a second language and may lack proficiency in writing—or may simply lack confidence in their ability to express themselves clearly in English. The written tests were nerve-racking; being able to move up in their field and demonstrate their abilities by literally showing their work is a boost to both their confidence and their careers.

Comcast is using learner-created video in other innovative ways as well—to replace five-minute presentations each new hire was required to do as part of onboarding training, for example. Now, the employees create videos where they share what they’ve learned about the company’s history with other new hires. (You can read more about how Comcast uses video and mobile devices to enhance training in “Comcast Uses Mobile to Deepen Learning and Verify Skills.”)

Learners are not the only ones who get assessed via video. It’s common for teachers themselves to be critiqued based on videos of their teaching. In fact, athletes, dancers, dog trainers—anyone whose body position and movement is critical to their results—commonly use video to evaluate their own performance or seek professional coaching. But the twist in Comcast’s and Allain’s uses is that they are “testing” knowledge of concepts or application of skills that are not body-dependent. Their video-based tests reveal an untapped opportunity; learners’ mastery of just about any concept or skill could be evaluated by asking them to “teach” it on video or show their work.