They're the cornerstone not only of the eLearning industry, but of quizzes and testing all over.
I went back to university a few years ago and was surprised (apalled?) at how many exams were composed of 100% multiple choice questions. No room for creative thought, analysis or synthesis of knowledge. No reflection or rumination required. Not much need to think, really, if you could just remember a long list of data, or had a photographic memory for slides.
True, you might have to figure out which answer was right by process of elimination, but beyond that application level skills were absent.
I remember leaving such tests thinking I must have got 100%, but never did. Aside from getting things outright wrong, there were often subtle tricks in the wording of the question that misled, or more than one answer that was strictly correct.
So what can go wrong with multiple choice? Here are some of my pet peeves:
A) C is usually right
B) The longest answer is usually right
C) Ambiguous wording / multiple corrects
D) "None of the above"
E) More than four choices
Multiple choice questions also let us create branching scenarios based on learner input. There are other methods for doing this--timing and prior choices being two--but M/C is the mainstay for anything requiring the learner to choose a way forward.
In a sim, some instructional designers swear by giving only two options at decision points, based on the idea that in real life either-or is the most common choice with which we are presented.
Should we go left or right? Keep going or stop? Answer yes or no? Buy now or keep looking? I kind of like this approach, especially for high level interactions where good judgement is among the competencies being trained.
As for the pandemic/homeworking conundrum above, all of the choices offered are sub-optimal--but that's life.
Some say TV is bad for 2 year-olds, others that Teletubbies or Baby Einstein are age appropriate and okay: if that's your belief, choose B. Some say crying it out is good for kids when they're young and you should let them learn to self-soothe: in that case, choose A. Still others will tell you your child's needs come first and foremost or they will grow up to be untrusting and anxious adults: if that rattles you, for heaven's sake, choose C.
Is there a right answer? Maybe not, but in any case, we have to give feedback. If this were a sim, the consequences you would write for each decision would depend on where you stand on these issues. Your social understanding, psychological training, cultural biases, religious beliefs, what your parents did and maybe even the memory of Mrs. Hacker, your Grade 3 teacher, would all chime in. And though I made the person in the image a guy, we all know the struggle of homeworking and childcare mainly affects women, so even the way we frame our questions must come under critical scrutiny.
So keep making up those multiple choice questions, they're the engine of good instruction. Just be careful how and when they are used as well as how they are written and framed.
And be sure to check your biases at the door--if you can!