How to Prevent Cheating in Online Courses

Cheating. Inevitably anyone who wants to cheat is going to find a way to do so, be it for an online course or in a normal classroom setting.  While it cannot be completely controlled, you do have some strategies available to you that decreases the likelihood of cheating – or at least discourages it by making life a bit more difficult.

Cheating can take many forms, but the majority of people will look to cheat on a quiz, especially an online quiz.  Many educators find this to be challenging, but there are some steps you can take to limit the amount of cheating that takes place.

Ultimately it comes down to your quizzing mechanism.  Many learning management systems have a built-in quiz feature, but it is rather stale, relying upon old quizzing principles that lack true effectiveness when it comes to managing the degree of cheating.  Below are some strategies you can use to make life difficult for cheaters:

1. Question Type Variation: Stay away from any product that only has simple quizzing abilities.  If you can only administer true/false questions and some multiple choice, then you should expect a high degree of cheating.  You need multiple choice, true and false, matching, sorting, fill-in-the-blank, answer randomizing, and more.

2. Question Formation: Most questions consist of a line of text and then text answers, but if you are able to include video or audio in your questions/answer, then you are one step ahead of the game. This makes it a bit more challenging for someone to take a screenshot of the questions.

3. Question Bank: In no case whatsoever should you use a quiz that does not have a question bank.  This is by far the easiest way to prevent cheating, and any system that does not have question bank facilities is simply behind the times.  Create a robust list of questions and then delivery a random portion of them to your users – no two quizzes will be the same.

If your quiz functionality doesn’t meet all of these criteria, you need something new, and I encourage you to take a look at LearnDash’s integrated quizzing functionality. Using our experience developing and designing elearning for Fortune 500 companies, we have ensured that the quiz with LearnDash is equipped with leading industry trends.  Anything less would be a true disservice.

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About the Author:

Justin Ferriman is the co-founder and CEO of LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by the world's leading organizations, such as the University of Michigan, Digital Marketer, WPEngine, and Infusionsoft. Justin has made a career as an elearning consultant where he has implemented large-scale training programs for Fortune 500 companies. Twitter | LinkedIn

14 Comments
  1. DuJuan Johnson

    I enjoyed your post, however I’m new to this field and was considering purchasing Captivate 7 or Articulate to help aide in designing online assessments. Do you know if those tools offers the features you mentioned in your post? Moreover, which tool do you think is better at performing the 3 steps above?

    • Hi DuJuan,
      Thank you for the comment. Both of these tools will provide you the flexibility you need for quizzes as they have become more dynamic in recent years. Articulate has an easier learning curve than Captivate, plus a pretty responsive support community. Here is a post that explains the differences between the two in more detail.

  2. Very timely post as I’m working on an online course with quizzing that is intended to help students identify their developmental needs. The results are meaningless if they cheat. And, while its too their benefit to be honest, I’m experienced enough to know that people want to score well even if it means that the course won’t be as useful.

    • Very true Tiffany, and unfortunately the temptation to cheat when in a virtual setting is greater because you know that no one is “watching”. Best of luck with your online quiz – I hope some of the tips are helpful!

  3. The title of the piece is “How to Prevent Cheating in Online Courses”, but why is everything about quizzes?
    Why not have assessments that are more real world? Like posting to short essays about the topic to be assessed. Or Tweeting them, or creating a podcast or … The student will be practicing skills needed in the work place as well as demonstrating mastery of the topic being tested.

    • Hi Maureen-
      Thanks for the comment. Your point is well-made. The article discusses quizzing given that it is generally of primary concern to people who have online learning, and in most cases is tied to an auto-achievement (i.e. certificates).

  4. Good article, and Dan Ariel has a lot more about that in his book “The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty.” He describes there a lot of methods that either increase or decrease dishonesty/cheating. I also wrote a larger blog on that on my site: enterprise-gamification.com/index.php/en/blog/4-blog/161-cheating-and-gaming-the-system

    • Paul Reader

      The article is certainly simple common sense with regard to preventing cheating when it comes to quizzes but II have to agree with Maureen. If organisations, even Fortune 500 one’s, are going to substantially base their certification on online quizzes then their training departments need to take a step back and review their online training paradigm and practices.

  5. Karen Tavares

    The challenge with matching and sorting is that they are not 508-compliant unless the user can do it from the keyboard (without the mouse). It’s possible but it can take extra programming that isn’t built into many quiz generators. What about LearnDash?

  6. Joel

    As we are an online education facility, even using question banks there are websites and other resources where students can cheat. We use a question bank so each student has a unique exam but take a question and pop it into google.com and quickly the results become apparent. In some cases its just the amount of data on the web. In others its apparent sites are made to assist students.
    Alternate options include a mix of M/C, fill in the blank, and short response type questions.
    As well we require proctoring for certain exams.
    Lastly schools may want to look at such sites as turnItin.com for essays(No I am not affiliated – just as a resource)
    Here is an article on cheating and that students do not think they are: http://hub.jhu.edu/gazette/2013/january/cheating-in-school-no-easy-answers

  7. Alex

    There is a much better way to prevent cheating and the solution is Smowl, it is a company that authenticates through a continuous biometric solution of facial recognition during the test, course or whatever, knowing at all times if the user on the other side of the online internet system is really who it should be preventing online fraud.

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