7 Tips To Design Rubrics For Open-Ended Questions In eLearning

7 Tips To Design Rubrics For Open-Ended Questions In eLearning
Summary: Grading quantitative exams is relatively simple and straightforward. But what about qualitative eLearning assessments with no clear cut answers? In this article, I'll share 7 tips to design rubrics for open-ended questions in eLearning.

How To Design Rubrics For Open-Ended Questions In eLearning

Open-ended questions allow online learners to put the information into their own words. Thus, they gauge how well an online learner understands the topic rather than how much they've memorized. Unfortunately, grading open-ended eLearning assessments can be a bit tricky, as answers tend to be more involved and diverse. Every online learner has a unique perspective and problem-solving approach, which yields unique responses. Here are 7 tips to help you develop grading rubrics for open-ended questions in eLearning courses.

1. Match Each Open-Ended Question With A Learning Objective

An effective open-ended rubric hinges on an effective open-ended question. It all starts with a learning objective and a desired outcome. Every eLearning question should have a single learning objective as its focal point. Otherwise, online learners don't know which answer you're looking for or how to summarize their ideas. You'll probably end up with responses that are all over the spectrum that are virtually impossible to grade. In addition, keep question choice to a minimum. Pose the same open-ended question to each online learner so that you can create one set of criteria. If you give them many options you can't compare and contrast their responses.

2. Determine The Learning Goal For Each Open-Ended Question

Aside from the overall learning objectives, you should also have specific learning goals for each open-ended question. This allows you to create a rubric that gauges the level of knowledge mastery and proficiency. Ideally, the open-ended questions should fall into one or more of the following categories:


Online learners must use all of their knowledge, skills, and experience to evaluate the open-ended question and then put the information into their own words. This is the ultimate test to determine whether they've assimilated the knowledge and comprehend the key takeaways. In most cases, online learners must cite facts, stats, and other data in their response.

Information Synthesis

Online learners utilize the information in new or creative ways to prove that they understand the concepts. They aren't just going through the motions. Instead, they have to apply what they've learned out of context, which requires a high level of comprehension.


Evaluating the information and then dissecting the key concepts and ideas. For example, the online learners reads a passage, highlights all of the essential details, and then creates a summary. This may also involve grouping similar concepts in order to find the relationship between them.

Practice Knowledge

All of the information and skills are put into practice to solve a new problem. Online learners must apply their knowledge to arrive at their own conclusions and overcome the obstacle.


Recall is the most basic line of inquiry. If online learners are able to memorize the key ideas, then they'll have no trouble passing the test. However, this does not demonstrate how much they know or how well they know it.

3. Create A Sample Response

A sample response serves as a template for your open-ended rubric. Write out the "perfect" answer that you're looking for. Highlight all of the main points that online learners should know, such as key facts that you stressed throughout the online lesson. Don't expect them to match your answer word for word, as there is always room for error. Your example is just a tool to use while you're developing the grading criteria.

4. Divide The Answer Into Distinct Sections

Analyze your ideal response, consider your learning objectives, and then divide the answer into sections. For example, the first sentence includes a summary of your company's customer service policy. Thus, your online learners must include a recap somewhere in their response. In lieu of sections, you can also divide the answer into traits or characteristics that you're looking for. For instance, correct spelling and grammar or the inclusion of certain keywords.

5. Assign Point Values For Each Section

Create a list of the sections or characteristics and give each a point value. As an example, citing the company policy is worth 5 points. The points should correspond to learning priorities. Setting criteria that support the main learning objective is of utmost importance. Tally all of the points at the end to calculate the maximum score. You must also determine the minimum score that online learners need to pass the eLearning assessment.

6. Make Online Learners Aware Of The Grading Criteria

Open-ended questions in eLearning don't involve as much direction as quantitative eLearning assessment methods. However, online learners still need some guidance in order to focus their efforts. What are the formatting requirements? For example, are you looking for answers in the form of a paragraph or bulleted-list? Specify every aspect of the grading criteria so that online learners know what to expect. You don't want to give the answer away by highlighting all of the key discussion points. However, you must be fully transparent about how responses are graded and what you are testing. For instance, which topics to include and why you have chosen these particular concepts.

7. Use eLearning Feedback To Improve Your Rubrics For Open-Ended Questions

Your rubric for open-ended questions may evolve over time with the help of online learner input. Conduct a poll or survey after the eLearning assessment to identify problem areas. As an example, most of your online learners aren't happy with the question format. Thus, you may need to rephrase the eLearning question to eliminate ambiguity. The goal is not to trick your online learners, but test their understanding of the subject. Other eLearning professionals can also offer feedback to help you improve your open-ended questions and obtain more accurate results.

Open-ended questions in eLearning may not have a definitive right or wrong answer. However, you can still design effective rubrics for open-ended questions using these 7 tips. Before you begin crafting your eLearning assessment, make sure that qualitative is the best approach. In some cases, multiple choice and other quantitative questions are better knowledge indicators.

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Wondering whether your eLearning assessments are on-point? Read the article 6 Tell-Tale Signs That Your eLearning Assessments May Be Missing The Mark to discover some signs that your eLearning assessments may still need some work.

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