Understanding the influence of teacher-learner relationships on learners' assessment perception

Suzanne Schut*, Jan van Tartwijk, Erik Driessen, Cees van der Vleuten, Sylvia Heeneman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Low-stakes assessments are theorised to stimulate and support self-regulated learning. They are feedback-, not decision-oriented, and should hold little consequences to a learner based on their performance. The use of low-stakes assessment as a learning opportunity requires an environment in which continuous improvement is encouraged. This may be hindered by learners' perceptions of assessment as high-stakes. Teachers play a key role in learners' assessment perceptions. By investigating assessment perceptions through an interpersonal theory-based perspective of teacher-learner relationships, we aim to better understand the mechanisms explaining the relationship between assessment and learning within medical education. First, twenty-six purposefully selected learners, ranging from undergraduates to postgraduates in five different settings of programmatic assessment, were interviewed about their assessment task perception. Next, we conducted a focussed analysis using sensitising concepts from interpersonal theory to elucidate the influence of the teacher-learner relationship on learners' assessment perceptions. The study showed a strong relation between learners' perceptions of the teacher-learner relationship and their assessment task perception. Two important sources for the perception of teachers' agency emerged from the data: positional agency and expert agency. Together with teacher's communion level, both types of teachers' agency are important for understanding learners' assessment perceptions. High levels of teacher communion had a positive impact on the perception of assessment for learning, in particular in relations in which teachers' agency was less dominantly exercised. When teachers exercised these sources of agency dominantly, learners felt inferior to their teachers, which could hinder the learning opportunity. To utilise the learning potential of low-stakes assessment, teachers are required to stimulate learner agency in safe and trusting assessment relationships, while carefully considering the influence of their own agency on learners' assessment perceptions. Interpersonal theory offers a useful lens for understanding assessment relationships. The Interpersonal Circumplex provides opportunities for faculty development that help teachers develop positive and productive relationships with learners in which the potential of low-stakes assessments for self-regulated learning is realised.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)441-456
Number of pages16
JournalAdvances in Health Sciences Education
Issue number2
Early online date29 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - May 2020


  • Assessment for learning
  • Low-stake assessments
  • Teacher-learner relationships
  • Faculty development


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