Programmatic assessment of competency-based workplace learning: when theory meets practice

Harold G. J. Bok*, Pim W. Teunissen, Robert P. Favier, Nancy J. Rietbroek, Lars F. H. Theyse, Harold Brommer, Jan C. M. Haarhuis, Peter van Beukelen, Cees P. M. van der Vleuten, Debbie A. D. C. Jaarsma

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Background: In competency-based medical education emphasis has shifted towards outcomes, capabilities, and learner-centeredness. Together with a focus on sustained evidence of professional competence this calls for new methods of teaching and assessment. Recently, medical educators advocated the use of a holistic, programmatic approach towards assessment. Besides maximum facilitation of learning it should improve the validity and reliability of measurements and documentation of competence development. We explored how, in a competency-based curriculum, current theories on programmatic assessment interacted with educational practice. Methods: In a development study including evaluation, we investigated the implementation of a theory-based programme of assessment. Between April 2011 and May 2012 quantitative evaluation data were collected and used to guide group interviews that explored the experiences of students and clinical supervisors with the assessment programme. We coded the transcripts and emerging topics were organised into a list of lessons learned. Results: The programme mainly focuses on the integration of learning and assessment by motivating and supporting students to seek and accumulate feedback. The assessment instruments were aligned to cover predefined competencies to enable aggregation of information in a structured and meaningful way. Assessments that were designed as formative learning experiences were increasingly perceived as summative by students. Peer feedback was experienced as a valuable method for formative feedback. Social interaction and external guidance seemed to be of crucial importance to scaffold self-directed learning. Aggregating data from individual assessments into a holistic portfolio judgement required expertise and extensive training and supervision of judges. Conclusions: A programme of assessment with low-stakes assessments providing simultaneously formative feedback and input for summative decisions proved not easy to implement. Careful preparation and guidance of the implementation process was crucial. Assessment for learning requires meaningful feedback with each assessment. Special attention should be paid to the quality of feedback at individual assessment moments. Comprehensive attention for faculty development and training for students is essential for the successful implementation of an assessment programme.
Original languageEnglish
Article number123
JournalBMC Medical Education
Publication statusPublished - 11 Sept 2013


  • Programmatic assessment
  • Workplace learning
  • Undergraduate (veterinary) medical education
  • (Peer) Feedback
  • Mentoring
  • Personal development

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