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Online Instruction? Please Don’t Ask This Kind of Question

Back in the olden days, when programmed instruction (precursor to online learning) was a thing, we learned not to write questions called “copy frames.”

03-26 Bird-of-Paradise

Do Not Point too Obviously to the Obvious Right Answer

What that means is, don’t give a little bit of information and then ask a question that only requires glancing at the text.

Here’s an example:

Question: What kinds of questions should we avoid? ______________ _______________
Answer: copy frames

In those old-fashioned, paper-based courses, students had to write out the correct answer. But even with those few extra seconds devoted to penmanship, studies show that copy frames are not so helpful for learning. This is because copying a few words from the preceding text does not demand much mental engagement from the learner.

Today it’s even worse. Here’s that same copy frame question, updated for eLearning:

Question: What kinds of questions should we avoid? Select the best answer.

  • Difficult
  • Fill-in-the-blank
  • Copy frames
  • Multiple choice

This takes no time or mental effort.

Try this one instead.

Question: Mary Clare is an instructional designer. She wants to ask questions throughout her online course. She should… Select the best answer.

  • Change from an online to a paper-based format
  • Write questions about content that is not in the course
  • Use questions that repeat word-for-word at least part of what was on the screen or in the narration
  • Ask questions that require active consideration before answering

For some organizations, multiple-choice questions are what’s available. This is usually because of practical reasons that are related to time and/or technical challenges. Multiple choice questions do not have to be deadly dull, ridiculous, or just plain bad.

This post is a small effort on my part to rescue learners from being subjected to today’s version of copy-frame questions.

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