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Reducing Cheating in Online Learning

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Academic honesty is one of the core values of the American educational system. From Pre-K to Ph.D., it’s essential that students, pupils, and learners do their own work with demonstrated honesty and integrity. Unfortunately, detecting and preventing cheating has become increasingly difficult in the era of online learning.


Thankfully, there are ways to build academic honesty into your lesson plans from the ground up, encouraging critical thinking skills and familiarity with the subject matter at the same time. With the right approach, reducing cheating in online learning can also improve the overall effectiveness of your lessons.


When students do their own work–and find the work fulfilling–they get lasting value from their education.

Cheating and Online Learning

With in-person assessments and assignments, detecting dishonest work is somewhat more straightforward: examine the handwriting on an assignment, make sure students aren’t whispering answers to each other during a test, confiscate cell phones, and make sure there’s no peaking. 


In a virtual learning model, the detection of academic dishonesty is much more challenging. After all, there’s nothing to prevent students from texting one another during a test–or even Googling answers on their mobile device–from the comfort of their own homes.

How to Prevent Online Cheating

Because schools are likely to offer students hybrid and distance learning options for at least a few more months (perhaps even permanently, in some cases), ensuring academic honesty has taken on special significance. And educators have come up with multiple solutions.

Increase Penalties for Cheating

Many educators have increased the penalty for academic dishonesty. This could take many forms. A teacher that notices students conferring via text message, for example, might call them out in front of their peers. 


This method may not be effective for several reasons:

  • In many cases, consequences for academic dishonesty are already quite severe. This doesn’t leave much room for escalation.
  • Students may attempt to cheat for a wide variety of reasons; the threat of penalties won’t always be an adequate deterrent.
  • Penalties don’t always provide opportunities for academic growth. Nor do many penalties offer the student encouragement to learn the subject matter in question.


As a result, most educators would prefer to prevent academic dishonesty rather than punish the behavior. 

Control the Testing Environment

In an online setting, all assignments will be completed and performed online. As a result, many educators have invested heavily in controlling the context of the assignment or assessment environment. The exact nature of this will look different depending on the subject and distance learning model. However, some common themes might be:

  • Limiting the time in which an assessment can be taken. For example, teachers might limit a multiple choice test to a time frame of 40 minutes, or an essay response assignment to 60 minutes.
  • Controlling the use of tabs and other windows. Many school machines and testing programs can give teachers the option to end the assessment if the student toggles to other windows or screens.
  • Giving each student individual tests. Some assessment programs allow teachers to shuffle the questions on each test, ensuring students can’t confer on answers during the test.


Of course, there’s only so much educators can do to control the testing environment before a student’s ability to take an assessment is impaired. It’s essential that teachers understand the limits of both technology and students. The goal is to ensure academic honesty, not make taking a test more difficult. 

Change the Nature of Assessments

The most effective way to reduce cheating in online learning is to change the nature of the assessments and assignments themselves. A multiple choice test, while efficient in terms of grading, has always been susceptible to academic dishonesty. In the era of online learning, teachers should strive to find more creative and unique ways for students to show what they know. This can also encourage critical thinking in new ways.


Some examples may include:

  • Have students record video of themselves giving a short presentation on the topic or subject matter.
  • Instead of multiple choice tests, design an assessment that utilizes in-class essays. (Essays can be plagiarised, of course, but plagiarism is usually much easier to detect. There are even services, such as Copyscape, that can help.) 
  • Ask assessment questions that require critical thinking and thoughtful reflection to answer. These can be short answer questions or brief essay questions.
  • Require students to synthesize the material that they’ve learned rather than repeating facts and figures.
  • Allow students to design their own individual assessment at the beginning of the unit. This can get students invested in the learning process and make cheating less likely as a result.


These types of assessments are more challenging to create, but they will do more to encourage student success in the long run. 

Helping Students Succeed

Students that cheat are only diminishing the value of their education.


As a result, solutions should be oriented towards helping the student achieve academic success. This doesn’t mean consequences should not exist, of course–especially when it comes to online learning, where the temptation to cheat may be strong.

But educators should always keep in mind that the goal is to help students succeed. Clerisy has developed online resources specifically designed to help administrators and educators reduce cheating in a proactive and productive way. With the right approach, online learning can be more honest and more successful.

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