Across the globe, there is an ever-increasing demand for education, qualifications, and certification. Our World in Datashows that our world will be inhabited by more and more educated people: In 1970, there were approximately 700 million people in the world with secondary or post-secondary education, but by 2100, this figure is predicted to be 10 times larger. The global e-learning market also continues to grow apace. Worth an impressive $107 billion in 2015, by 2025, however, Research and Markets believe it will reach a staggering total market value of $325 billion.
This is not surprising when it is clear there is a link between the level of qualification achieved and the earning potential of an individual. As indicated on the World Bank blog, earnings increase with education due to credential effects. This means that higher levels of schooling are associated with higher earnings—not because they directly raise productivity, but because they certify that the worker is likely to be productive. We can surmise that demand for access to training and professional qualifications continues apace because it helps individuals to convey they are likely to be productive in a given role, and they can acquire higher earnings as a result.
It is inarguable that e-learning has hugely increased the availability of and accessibility to course material anywhere in the world, allowing qualification and certification providers to scale globally. However, if you are offering an accredited qualification, there is usually some form of valid and secure assessment at the end of the training process, which raises the question: How can that assessment be provided in a way that is similarly scalable and accessible? Expecting learners, especially those who may have taken the training online, to travel miles to the nearest test center and possibly take time off work is not ideal—it is time-consuming, inconvenient and often costly.
Think of the analogy of buying a tablet online. You spend time reading tablet reviews, you browse many online stores, and, finally, you make your choice and go through the checkout process. Next, a screen displays telling you the tablet can be collected at 6 p.m. next Thursday from the nearest delivery point, which is more than 30 miles away. This scenario is actually in place for many end-of-course assessments! You may, with your e-learning course, have gone through most of the studying online, but then you still have to physically attend a center to do a secure assessment. This approach is not candidate-friendly, and, therefore, not competitive. It does not reflect as innovative and flexible on the part of the training provider. Apart from the competitive impact, the logistics and costs of organizing test centers and on-site proctors can be burdensome.
Assessment technology providers have been developing solutions to this problem, and some of these solutions are being used by large training providers worldwide. One of the big shifts in assessment technology has been the ability to deliver exams using live remote proctoring. This is where, at the end of a training course, candidates can sit for their exam online while being supervised over the Web by a trained proctor, who monitors them using secure technologies—effectively recreating the “test center experience” online. This can include video and audio streaming and remote screen share, and the exam session typically is recorded. Candidates can be given the option to book an exam time that suits them, then sit their assessment securely from the comfort of their home or office.
With online proctoring, candidates will either download an exam application to their computer or access the assessment through their browser, depending on the type of solution and the level of security required. Automated system checks also are carried out well in advance of exam day, to validate the candidate’s technical environment (e.g., to ensure the microphone is not muted, the Webcam is working properly, etc.). At exam time, candidates have the option to connect to their supervisor, who will check their environment and validate their identity, before allowing access to the exam. With “live” remote proctoring, candidates are monitored by a person for the duration of the exam. If they do anything outside of the exam rules, the proctor will take action, which can be anything from asking them to stop particular behaviour right through to actually terminating the exam in the case of a severe infringement. The exam rules are set by the examining body, and the proctor enforces these rules in the same way as in an exam hall.
There are many innovative technologies at play in the delivery of remote proctoring. They are continually being enhanced to include features such as machine learning, behavioral tracking, and biometric scanning. Most of the leading online proctoring solutions also can accommodate factors such as variable Internet speeds and corporate firewalls. Given the significant benefits of online proctoring in terms of scaling qualifications over a wide geographical area, for the most part, this type of technology has been embraced by regulators on the basis that there are sufficient controls and procedures in place to ensure the integrity of the exam.
Construction Industry Case Study
One training provider in the construction area, The Compliance and Skills Academy (COSAC), saw a gap in the market to provide Health & Safety Level 1 qualifications to UK-based builders using remote proctoring. This was a student-focused move, as builders in the UK can find it difficult to get time off-site to travel to a test center. As a first step, COSAC had to get its Safe2Site course and exam with remote proctoring delivery accredited by the Construction Skills Certification Scheme, which was a comprehensive process taking almost a year. Having achieved approval, students of the Safe2Site course now can use this new assessment technology to sit their exam from their own home, during the evening or over the weekend, and the lead time has been reduced from weeks to hours.
Andy Mason, director at the Academy believes this level of innovation has been transformative for the industry. “Our candidates are under a lot of time pressure and can’t take time off-site easily. We’ve found the demand for our online training has greatly increased now that we offer the flexibility to sit the accredited exam from any location at a time that suits. It’s a candidate-focused approach as they welcome the convenience. It also means we can deliver this qualification anywhere in the UK, as we’re not restricted by access to test centers and providing in-person proctors.”
It’s logical that if you want to scale an online course offering over a wide geographical area, you need a flexible and user-friendly way to provide the end-of-course assessment, while ensuring it remains secure and robust. It does require forward-thinking and a willingness to try out new technology and solutions. It is worth exploring if you want a flexible and scalable qualification provision into the future, especially given the increasingly competitive training and e-learning marketplace.
Siobhan Ogilvy is Marketing Director at TestReach, which offers a cloud-based solution used to create, deliver, and mark any type of assessment, from formative tests through to high-stake formal exams. It incorporates authoring capabilities with the option of remote invigilation by in-house trained supervisors, all built into one application.