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Assessment and Self Assessment

Learners who have difficulty communicating with others may exhibit a wide variety of difficulties and abilities. However, the vast majority of adjustments that can be made to assessments to benefit learners who have difficulty communicating with others are based around flexibility to accommodate the needs of individuals. Often permission must be sought from Awarding Bodies (such as an application for a particular individual to be permitted to deliver a written communication in place of a spoken one), although some adjustments for learners who have difficulty communicating with others are simply good practice (for example, hosting a debate in a virtual environment such as an online discussion forum or even a replication of a ‘live’ debate in a virtual world such as Second Life can enable learners with less confidence speaking in front of peers to contribute on a more equal footing).

The most important principle in meeting the needs of a learner who has difficulty communicating with others is to find out what communication methods are effective for them, and then tune your assessment to best utilise those methods. This may involve choosing a different mode of assessment but with the same basic assessment content (someone who has no larynx may have difficulty in undertaking a conversation in a foreign language, but may be able to demonstrate their understanding of that language by undertaking a conversation using computer ‘chat’ software) or may require a different assessment altogether.

Example 1 - A learner who has no larynx is concerned in a modern language course that they will have to demonstrate the ability to speak the language through an oral assessment, which would be impossible for them to achieve. However, the learning objective states that the student must be able to enter into real-time conversation, understanding what is said to them and responding appropriately. So it may be appropriate to hold the conversation using computer ‘chat’ software that will enable them to read entries and type responses accordingly. A combination of the two may involve the assessor communicating orally and the learner responding via the chat facility.


Users who have difficulty communicating with others due to social, confidence, anxiety or mental health issues may require personalised adjustments to assessments. It may be necessary to assess the student alone instead of in a peer group, if group interaction is not an assessed component. Using online communication tools, or even virtual worlds such as Second Life, may enable students to express their feelings or opinions more freely due to the ‘protection’ of being able to communicate from a safe environment or from behind an online persona. All of these may be legitimate strategies to adopt for users who have difficulty in communicating with others.

Many adjustments for users who have difficulty communicating with others require little more than common sense. If learners are undertaking a group activity, ensure that it is designed such that learners with particular difficulties are able to fully contribute by sharing out tasks accordingly.

Example 2– You wish to divide your learners into groups of five to undertake a small group task, which is to research a topic and deliver a short presentation. One of the groups contains a learner who has debilitating anxiety about delivering presentations in public, and another group contains a learner who is reluctant to engage in peer discussions as they feel they need time to formulate their thoughts and articulate them adequately. The solution in the former case would be to ensure that all groups are aware that not everybody has to participate in every aspect of the task, as long as everyone contributes equally to the final product, so the learner who cannot deliver the presentation simply takes on other duties such as research or writing the presentation. In the latter case it may be appropriate to advise the group to undertake their communications about the task using an asynchronous online medium, where the learner who has difficulty engaging in debate has more time to respond, and can therefore make a more valid and equal contribution to the group task.


Learners may have difficulty in reading non-verbal communication – this is a trait common to (but certainly not exclusive to) people with autistic spectrum disorders or Asperger’s syndrome. This is rarely an issue in assessment, but the possibility for difficulties can arise, particularly if the assessment is based upon role-play or live discussion or debate. If an assessment requires a learner to interpret non-verbal communication such as body language or facial expression (and assuming this is not an assessed component of the learning outcomes) then an alternative may need to be created for learners who have this difficulty.

Further information and guidance