Assessment as Learning (AaL) in Instructional Design and Learning Experience Design

Pretty designer thinking at her desk in her office

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about three types of assessment common in the Ontario school system: Assessment as Learning (AaL), Assessment for Learning (AfL), and Assessment of Learning (AoL). That post described all three and explained their importance. If you haven’t read it yet, I suggest you start there.

After that post, I have spent a few weeks on this topic, each week breaking down one of the different types of assessment, as it pertains to instructional design and learning experience design. First, I began with AoL, and then AfL. Now I’ll move on to AaL.

But before I delve into AaL as it is used in instructional design and learning experience design, let’s review where the term came from as it relates to teaching in the primary and secondary school system.

Description of AaL from the school system

Just like Assessment for Learning, AaL has a strong focus on the process of learning. AaL is not marked, but instead provides the learner with information about how they are progressing. This allows the learner to make their own personal evaluation about their knowledge and whether they are ready to move on to new content, or if they need to revisit what they have just learned. Additionally, AaL is where the metacognition piece comes in.

AaL in instructional design and learning experience design

Unfortunately, AaL is rarely used when it comes to instructional design. But this doesn’t need to be the case, interactive eLearning activities and reflection questions can be effective methods for AaL. Let’s look at some considerations for AaL in instructional design.

1. Assessment must be based on the learning outcomes

As with all other posts about assessment, I will begin with the most important piece: it is essential to create assessments that are strongly based on the learning outcomes. At the start of the course design process, you should have written some learning outcomes for the course. These outcomes, the instruction, and the assessment should be closely aligned. For more information on this topic, check out the AoL post.

Although AaL doesn’t give a score, if the learners aren’t being steered in the correct direction for learning, they will suffer during AfL and AoL. Learners often pick up on the types of questions they are being asked and will focus their efforts in those areas. Therefore, your AaL should be based on the learning outcomes.

2. Clear purpose and plan

Ensure that your learners know why you are doing the AaL. Let them know that there won’t be a score for the activity, but that it will help guide them in their learning. Additionally, let them know how they will be receiving feedback and what to do if they want to review certain course material or if they want to continue on with the rest of the course.

3. Styles of questions

For instructor-led training, reflection is one of the classic forms of AaL. When done properly, learners not only reflect on what they know, but also how they know those things and how those things related to other things they know. These last two questions can help drive the metacognition piece of AaL.

One consideration for reflections is the terminology. Many people cringe when they hear the word ‘reflection’ (myself included). If you can disguise the reflection as some other form of activity, learners maybe more invested in answering the questions.

For example, I recently created a 3-day training course that contained 24 chapters. At the conclusion of each chapter was a reflection activity. However, these were called ‘reviews’. Most people are familiar with the concept of review questions at the conclusion of a chapter, so there is less push-back from the learners. However, the questions were framed in such a way that they prompted reflection and metacognition.

Other strategies include scenarios and group teaching activities such as jigsaws.

In an eLearning course, reflection questions are also possible, but there is a wide range of other options available. I like to use super simple scenario questions that have immediate and personalized feedback. These are then followed up with questions about how the learner arrived at the answer they chose.

For example, I would create a question where two people are discussing an issue and the learner must choose who they agree with. They then receive feedback about whether or not they were correct (this would be AfL). To then push this into the AaL realm, follow-up questions should be included on why the learner chose their answer and/or how this scenario relates to other real-life events.

4. Feedback

Similar to AfL, AaL is all about feedback. I recommend checking out the AfL post for more information on providing effective feedback.

5. Frequency

AaL works best when done frequently. Ideally after each topic or even sub-topic. This encourages the learners to continually think about the answers they are choosing and why they have picked those answers. Furthermore, it helps pinpoint essential information that they can expect to see on the AfL and AoL.


That’s it for the final post on Assessment as Learning, Assessment for Learning, and Assessment of Learning. As I mentioned at the start of the first of these 4 posts, even though I am no longer a teacher, I really love this model of assessment. It takes formative/summative assessments one step further and incorporates reflection and metacognition.

How would you use AaL, AfL, and AoL in your instructional design or learning experience design environment?