From education to employment

Assessments: Do the right things not the easy things

Kevern Kerswell AIM

Here at the AIM Qualifications and Assessment Group (AIM), we are focussing unashamedly on raising assessment standards. This short piece is intended to share some of my views about the AIM approach to assessment with a particular focus on e-learning.

My starting point is that learners deserve well planned and expertly delivered teaching and learning. Assessment is at its best when curriculum has been designed effectively with differentiation at its core. Assessment methodologies need to enable the learner to demonstrate skills and knowledge, must address the qualification specification and must be appropriate to the learner. These are the basics of good teaching and learning but in some cases I have seen a concerning deterioration in standards. However, at the same time, I get to see and hear about exceptional practice across our 750 or so centres and believe that good practice should be shared widely. 

I believe that it is important that AIM and colleagues across the awarding sector should play our part in supporting providers to deliver qualifications effectively.  We all want learners to succeed and flourish and I see our relationship with centres as a partnerships.

“Our assessment philosophy is that we will do the right things not the easy things.”

The growth of e-learning and the opportunities and risks associated with Artificial Intelligence (AI) in assessment

The technological advances in recent years have enabled dramatic improvements for learners. AI offers new and ever expanding opportunities to enhance e-learning and we are seeing increasingly flexible programmes of learning. The teaching and learning landscape has been transformed for the better in a post-pandemic era which is no longer restricted to mainly traditional classroom based teaching and learning. However, these advances have also created risks and in line with the AIM assessment philosophy we are taking a view of what is and is not appropriate for our qualifications and assessment services.

The ever accelerating capability of Artificial Intelligence and its incorporation into e-learning has resulted in internal dialogue about how we strike the right balance between learner choice and flexibility while ensuring that the right learner is on the right qualification and that their achievements are authentic, current, sufficient and reliable.

AI in the Qualifications Sector

Ofqual issued a policy paper in April 2024 titled ‘Ofqual’s approach to regulating the use of artificial intelligence in the qualifications sector’. This paper has been very helpful within AIM as we continue to work hard to play our part in building and maintaining public confidence in qualifications. We work with multiple regulators who are all forming views and policies in relation to AI.  

Our regulators all appear to agree on the risks associated with non-exam based assessments and the role that AI could play in learner and centre based malpractice.  For example, the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) released a paper in January 2023 which dealt with threats to academic integrity which result from AI.  

“Regulatory concerns are clear, and we are evolving our approaches to keep pace with technological developments so that our learners and centres can benefit from technology while staying true to the basic principles of effective assessment”.

The AIM commitment to learners

AIM is a registered charity with a vision and mission to empower futures. Ultimately, AIM must deliver against its charitable objectives which are:

  • to provide an accessible and flexible accreditation service which helps to widen access to education and training for all learners, particularly those who have benefited least in the past from available provision.

On a personal level it is rewarding to lead an organisation which aligns so closely with my individual values. My career in education and training has always been about widening participation and I am lucky to work with so many colleagues who have also operated in similar environments.  The whole team at AIM are dedicated to ensuring that our services are not only high quality, but also inclusive. The shared commitment across AIM is simple:

“AIM will prioritise regulatory compliance that is ensured through proactive interventions and guidance.  Our starting point is to work with centres and providers so that they are supported to deliver our qualifications compliantly and appropriately”.

How do our views on the use of technology in assessment affect our centres?

I am of the strong view that pedagogy needs to do a lot more than simply teach to a qualification specification. I share the values of many AIM centres that good curriculum design starts with the needs of the learners and differentiation should be in-built. My first role in education and training was to promote and deploy an e-learning network across a large utility company in the mid 1990’s. The technology was basic and the functionality limited. I remember fondly the 1980’s popular television advert for an alcoholic drink with the slogan, ‘anytime, anyplace anywhere‘. The e-learning supplier I worked with in the 1990’s referred directly to ‘Martini’ e-learning to emphasise the anticipated revolutionary benefits for learners but while it sounded good, it was a flawed slogan. Things have moved on although I remain convinced that alcohol should not be consumed at anytime, anyplace and anywhere! Call me old fashioned but I also believe the same rules apply to pursuing a qualification, although for different reasons of course.

The learning environment and context is important, and I do not believe in a ‘one size fits all’ approach to assessment. 100% delivered online learning works well in particular contexts and less so in others and providers need to carefully consider what is fit for purpose. Qualification and funding reform can divide opinion, but one thing should unite government, opposition parties, civil servants, training providers, awarding organisations and regulators – quality has to come first.

“AIM will foster and facilitate the effective use of technology to support the assessment of its qualifications and seek collaboration with organisations who share our values in respect to blended, learner centred provision that is supportive and inclusive”.

AIM Access to Higher Education Transformation

A recent example of our commitment to quality is the way we have responded to the needs of our learners during the recent revalidation of our Access to Higher Education diplomas.

Whilst all Access Validating Agencies are revalidating their diplomas in line with new QAA licencing criteria, AIM has one of the largest ranges of Access to HE diplomas and has offered online versions of its most in-demand  diplomas. So as part of the revalidation we have been careful to strengthen the quality of our online provision to ensure high levels of support for both learners and providers.

We did observe that a small number of providers were gravitating towards an approach that favoured a 100% online delivery model so we dug a little deeper to see the effects of this shift. We concluded that where delivery was 100% online:

  • Achievement rates were often lower than blended and traditionally delivered diplomas.
  • Some learners had reported significant concerns about providers that only deliver in a 100% online environment. These concerns included a lack of support and assistance and poor response rates.
  • Learners were not offered advice and guidance as part of their enrolment.  
  • Peer networking was negatively impacted through learning in isolation.

Access to Higher Education learners are typically adults who have been out of education for long periods of time. It is my view that these learners should not ideally operate in a 100% online environment. I have formed this view partly with the regulatory risks in mind, partly because of the feedback received from learners,  partly as a result of our own achievement data but mostly because of who Access to HE learners represent.  

An Access to HE cohort generally includes adults with multiple support needs and technology can play an amazing role in helping them negotiate the various learning outcomes associated with their course.  However, it is my increasing view that a blended or traditional approach meets learner needs most effectively in this context.  

By Kevern Kerswell, Group CEO AIM Qualifications and Assessment Group

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