Assessment vs Evaluation in Informal Learning Environments

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Assessment versus Evaluation: What is the difference?

If you did an informal survey asking the difference between the terms “assessment” and “evaluation”, there’s a good chance you would not get a consensus. We have examined this and found that evaluation and assessment are used interchangeably and not clearly defined as being different terms with different definitions. The only consistency we found is that most instructional designers refer to evaluation and K-12 educators more regularly use assessment. This anomaly creates the need for us to define, for purposes of this site and our mission, what the differences are to us. Please understand we are doing this for consistently and transparent on this site. We do not take sides on the discrepancy.

Our Definitions


Assessment focuses on learning, teaching and outcomes. It provides information for improving learning and teaching. Assessment is an interactive process between students and faculty that informs faculty how well their students are learning what they are teaching. The information is used by faculty to make changes in the learning environment and is shared with students to assist them in improving their learning and study habits. This information is learner-centered, course based, frequently anonymous, and not graded.


Evaluation focuses on grades and may reflect classroom components other than course content and mastery level. These could include discussion, cooperation, attendance, and verbal ability.

Dimension of Difference

Besides the two defined terms of assessment and evaluation, there are also dimension of difference. By using the image below, the interdependence of the three dimensions can be explained and visualized.

Dimension of Difference



Content: timing, primary, purpose Formative: ongoing, to improve learning Summative: final, to gauge quality
Orientation: focus of measurement Process-oriented: how learning is going Product-oriented: what’s been learned
Findings: uses thereof Diagnostic: identify areas for improvement Judgmental: arrive at an overall grade/score

Which one of these do select?

  • First of all, it is probably a safe assumption that evaluation will not be a part of most informal/free choice/museum designs.
  • However, having said that, there is a possibility that your clients will be interested in summative grading/scoring (especially if you are being asked to retrofit the informal experience inside a K-12 school setting).
  • The point is that some decisions will have to be made regarding this and it is probably best to actually start at the end and work backwards towards it:

Other Things to Consider

Here is a list of questions an instructional designer needs to consider as a part of designing learning experiences (regardless of format):

  1. What are the expected outcomes?
  2. Which of the two (assessment or evaluation) are the driving force behind the ability to decide whether those goals being met?
  3. Does it have to be an “either-or” question? Is there room for both?
  4. Which Theoretical Premise(s) is/are going to be the basis for the design (i.e., which end of the Learning Theory Continuum)?
  5. What is the validity/reliability of that premise to aid in the process of those decisions?
  6. How do you assess the activity in informal situations when there may not be one correct answer?

Please note, these are only some of the questions that need to be asked. Feel free to use our Community of Practice Blog to post your thoughts and additional perspectives on this topic!


Annenberg Learner: Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum. The Annenberg Foundation. Retrieved, August 8, 2015, from:

Ellenberg, J. (2014). How not to be wrong: The power of mathematical thinking. New York: Penguin Press.

McKenney, S. & Reeves, T. C. (2012). Conducting educational design research. New York: Routledge.

Smith, F. (1998). The book of learning and forgetting. New York: Teachers College Press. [/su_box]

St. Thomas University Online (2018). Importance of Educational Measurement, Assessment and Evaluation. Retrieved from:

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