Journal Articles

Assessing the online learner: Resources and strategies for faculty

Categories: Book Review, Issue 29(2)

Book by Rena M. Palloff & Keith Pratt
Review by Jillian Reading  
Student Advising Services
University at Buffalo


Online coursework is becoming an increasingly popular method of instruction but many academic advisors may not be familiar with the mechanisms that make up online courses or how students are assessed in these courses. Courses not meeting in a physical space provide a number of advantages over their seated counterparts: students can access material at any time; instructors can monitor a class when they are traveling, facility cost is lowered (e.g., light, heat), and students all over the world can network and collaborate over common course material. Online education is not, however, without its drawbacks: not all students are motivated to complete coursework in a timely manner, it can be difficult to ensure student academic integrity, and faculty and students may find it difficult to form meaningful relationships when they cannot interact in person. 

Assessing the Online Learner provides ideas for engaging students with the material, suggestions for ways to foster meaningful relationships, and a fantastic overview of assessment methods that can be utilized with online students. Palloff and Pratt provide examples of rubrics and worksheets which are especially helpful for those new to course design or online instruction. Additionally, the book is well-written and easy to understand. Rather than being bogged down with advanced terminology, the text reads more like a how-to guide for determining learning outcomes in online courses.  

Palloff and Pratt’s work is a must read for those interested in the functioning of online courses and assessment of online learning. It also is critical reading for academic advisors who work primarily with distance education students as it is imperative that they understand which students are most apt to excel in online courses and which tend to have more difficulty. 

Advisors who teach online may find this book more salient than those who do not; still those not teaching online can adapt many of the strategies discussed to further engage their students whether online or in person. Since advisors are using online technologies to reach their advisee’s (e.g., instant messaging, Facebook©, blogs) it is integral that they understand how to structure these technology resources to ensure maximum student benefits. 

This piece is part of a larger series, the Jossey-Bass “Guides to Online Teaching and Learning.” Thus it may be difficult for individuals unfamiliar with educational technology and Internet jargon (e.g., Web 2.0, wikis, blogs) to fully grasp all concepts without first reading preceding installments that discuss engaging, collaborating, using wikis, and synchronous teaching. Books within this series may be of interest to advisors who want to learn more about online coursework in terms of how it affects student retention, what skills students need to excel in these courses, and tips for online student success. 

Overall Assessing the Online Learner provides a plethora of information regarding online course design and strategies for determining learning outcomes. While much of the content of this book is geared toward online instructors there are many useful snippets for advisors. As technology advances and more students take part in online academic opportunities, those within the advising community must understand more about the mechanics of the online environment.


Assessing the online learner: Resources and strategies for faculty. (2009). Book by Rena M. Palloff & Keith Pratt. Review by Jillian Reading. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 153pp. Price $28.00. ISBN 978-0-470-28386-8