The Differences Between Direct and Indirect Measurement

March 16, 2022 Nikki Kowbel

Direct and indirect measurement both play a role in a successful assessment strategy. While there are some key differences between the two, they should always be viewed as complementary activities that work together to support and improve teaching and learning.

Direct and indirect measures both aim to identify what students have learned; they just approach it differently. 

What are direct measurements in assessment?

Direct measurements provide actual proof of student learning and are conducted throughout a course or program, as faculty conduct exams, quizzes, demonstrations, and reports. They include artifacts like essays, exams, or capstone projects, and are often scored with rubrics.

Over time, direct measurements help you gain insight into what students know or can do, and build a body of evidence of student learning. 

What are indirect measurements in assessment?

Indirect measurements supplement direct measures of learning by assessing opinions or thoughts around student knowledge or skills. These types of measurement usually take place at a single point in time rather than throughout a course (for example, an end-of-course evaluation). Indirect measurements involve other indicators of success like self-reported surveys or sentiment scores.

How do you collect direct and indirect measurements?

Direct measures require pulling data related to actual student behavior or work. This can come from course assignments and tests within the LMS, standardized test results, and student ePortfolios. Indirect measures data can be taken from course evaluation and survey responses, along with interviews and focus groups.

To determine whether a measurement is direct or indirect, consider whether the assessment is measuring tangible proof that an outcome is achieved. Can you directly observe student knowledge or skills? If so, you’re making a direct measurement.

Do you need both types of measurement for a successful assessment strategy?

Both types of measurement are important. A 2:1 ratio of direct to indirect measurements helps ensure your outcomes are actually being met (and a combination of the two is often required by accreditors!). For example, if course evaluations reflect that students feel they learned something (an indirect measurement) but exam results don’t demonstrate this (a direct measurement), you can take a closer look at course or program content to figure out what went awry.

Watermark's solutions make it simple to gather both direct and indirect measurements. With Planning & Self-Study, you can easily import direct measurement data from your LMS, capture artifacts, and monitor rubric scores. And Course Evaluations & Surveys (formerly EvaluationKIT) allows you to easily capture indirect measurements of student learning. The tool makes it simple to gather real-time student feedback and create customizable reports that surface valuable insights.

Want to learn more? Download our eBook, "Student Assessment: Go Beyond Test Scores."

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