Linda Suskie

 A Common Sense Appr​oach to Assessment in Higher Education


Strategies that help students learn

Posted on November 3, 2014 at 12:50 AM

I have often said that, while in many ways these are challenging times for American higher education, in some ways we are living in a golden age, because we are coming off a quarter century of good research on practices that help students learn.


In my 2009 book Assessing Student Learning: A Common Sense Guide, I tried to distill that research into a list of strategies. In my new book Five Dimensions of Quality: A Common Sense Guide to Accreditation and Accountability, I’ve updated that list. Today research indicates that students learn most effectively when:

1. They see clear relevance and value in their learning activities.

2. They are instilled with a “can do” attitude.

3. They are academically challenged and given high but attainable expectations, such as through assignments with scaffolding.

4. Learning activities and grades focus on important learning outcomes. Faculty organize curricula, teaching practices, and assessments to help students achieve important learning outcomes. Students spend their time and energy learning what they will be graded on.

5. They understand course and program learning outcomes and the characteristics of excellent work, often through a rubric.

6. They spend significant time and effort studying and practicing.

7. They interact meaningfully with faculty—face-to-face and/or online.

8. They collaborate with other students—face-to-face and/or online—including those unlike themselves.

9. New learning is related to their prior experiences and what they already know, through both concrete, relevant examples and challenges to their existing paradigms.

10. They learn by doing, through hands-on practice engaging in multidimensional “real world” tasks, rather than by listening to lectures.

11. They use their learning to explore, apply, analyze, justify, and evaluate, because facts memorized in isolation are quickly forgotten.

12. They participate in out-of-class activities that build on what they are learning in the classroom.

13. They can obtain support when they need it: academic, social, personal, and financial.

14. They receive frequent, prompt, concrete feedback on their work, followed by opportunities to revise their work.

15. They integrate and see coherence in their learning by reflecting on what and how they have learned, by constructing their own learning into meaningful frameworks, and through synthesizing capstone experiences such as first-year experiences, field experiences, community-based or service learning experiences, independent study, and research projects.

16. Their college and its faculty and staff truly focus on helping students learn and succeed and on improving student learning and success.

Categories: Curriculum & teaching