Inclusivity as a core principle for Learnosity

Principles
Strategy

People sometimes think that only a tiny minority of learners have accessibility or other inclusivity needs. But this is far from the truth—inclusivity matters much more widely.

In the US, 26% of all adults have some type of disability and 14% of public school students received special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. And 21.9% of US residents speak a language other than English at home, which may pose a challenge to some taking tests in English.

Add to these inclusivity challenges those in different cultures and geographies and for those who find it difficult to study at home due to lack of devices, connectivity and/or space and you can see that inclusivity is much more than a few “corner” cases.

I am John Kleeman, Founder of Questionmark. Following Learnosity’s acquisition of Questionmark this summer, I’ve joined the Learnosity team as EVP Industry Relations and Business Development. One of the things that most impresses me about Learnosity is its commitment to inclusivity and accessibility in assessment. 

Gavin Cooney (Learnosity CEO) and I gave the closing keynote at the Beyond Multiple Choice conference recently. Our key message was that digital assessment provides a huge opportunity to improve education and learning, but that inclusivity is critical to successful digital learning and assessment.

The inclusivity challenge

When you look at the results of school leaving exams or admission exams for young people, there is a consistent theme. Results and scores often favor those in cities over rural areas, often favor people with family or parental wealth, and often dis-favor people born outside the country where exams are run. 

This issue is controversial in the US in relation to the SAT and ACT tests used for university admission, but it also applies in many other countries. 

The diagram below is from the Irish Higher Education Authority. It shows on one axis school leaving exam scores and on the other axis the wealth or deprivation of student home addresses within Dublin (Ireland’s capital city). It is clear that on average people from wealthier locations do better than people from poorer locations in end school exams.

Chart showing relationship between leaving certificate scores and deprivation index based on student home addresses

You could draw such graphs in many other countries. There is an argument that tests just measure how things are and that the main issue is the quality of education. However, most accept that we need to improve education but also need to work hard to make sure tests and exams are fully inclusive. 

The digital education promise

The promise of digital education and assessment is that it can provide good quality education for all. It can support the work that teachers do and amplify, personalize, and extend it so that all learners can reach their potential. 

Tweet screenshot quoting Gavin Cooney, CEO of Learnosity saying: "We believe education is a human right; therefore, it must be inclusive, equitable, and accessible."

Many of us working in digital education are doing so because of that promise. A key reason I founded Questionmark was to bring the benefits of computers to education, and Gavin and Mark Lynch founded Learnosity for similar reasons. 

Computerized assessment has a huge role to play in digital education—in fact digital education is probably only possible with effective assessment. The most critical role is that it gives the data to allow improvement of learning. You can only manage what you can measure. 

Digital education is probably only possible with effective assessment. The most critical role is that it gives the data to allow improvement of learning. You can only manage what you can measure.  Click To Tweet

If you’re interested in learning more about this, take a look at the World Bank’s 2018 report “Learning to Realize Education’s Promise”. One of its key recommendations is to “Assess learning to make it a serious goal”. The report suggests there is a huge risk of “schooling without learning”—that is, time spent learning without achieving useful skills. Assessment gives the data to teachers, learners, parents, and managers to measure learning and allow improvement of education and learning. 

Assessment also does much more. By giving retrieval practice, it helps learners retain knowledge and reduces learning loss. Among other benefits, it also motivates learning and accredits what people have learned. 

If education itself is to be inclusive and a driver of equity, then so must assessment technology.

What does inclusivity mean in digital assessment?

Fairness and inclusivity does not come automatically with digital assessment—you need to work for it. The image below from our presentation shows some of the things you need to think about when building or using digital technology.

A series of interlinked hexagons:
Visual, Auditory, Cultural, Cognitive, Device, Connectivity, Proctoring, Language, Imagery, Test anxiety, Bias avoidance, Stereotyping

Accessibility is a core focus at Learnosity. The team works hard to not only ensure that assessment software is compliant with accessibility standards, but also that it’s practically usable. So, for example, a learner who has their own familiar screen reader can use it directly and doesn’t have to use a strange one. Gavin likes to say “accessibility isn’t hard … it’s really hard”. I know from long experience that he’s right. Since joining Learnosity, I’ve seen some of our activity around accessibility and it’s impressive. For example, if any accessibility bug is raised there is a team of people at hand to quickly react to it. 

If education itself is to be inclusive and a driver of equity, then so must assessment technology. Click To Tweet

Another important area for inclusivity is device support. Not everyone has a modern device. Not everyone has reliable Internet connectivity at home. It’s important that software supports a wide range of devices and has approaches like offline assessment delivery or paper options to cope with such challenges. It is important that digital learning and assessment are accessible to resource-poor learners.

There are lots of other areas where you need to work on inclusivity in assessments: support for different languages, avoiding cultural bias, dealing with people who suffer from “test anxiety”, making sure that proctoring respects privacy, and much more. Inclusivity is a journey, not a destination.

Aiming higher in assessment

In our presentation, we encouraged everyone to think more about inclusivity in assessment. If you are an end user of assessment, then we encourage you to demand that your suppliers invest in accessibility and inclusivity. And if you are a vendor yourself, we encourage you to aim for the very best.  

If you’re interested in seeing our full presentation, you can check it out here. And if you’re interested to read more about accessibility in digital assessment, you can download a free copy below 👇.

Learnosity ebook on building accessible learning products

John Kleeman

EVP at Learnosity & Questionmark

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