Answer to "How do you promote learning from assessment?"


Editor: Suzanne Schut


‘Assessment drives learning’, it’s a well-known expression and a generally accepted concept in the literature on assessment in medical education. Students can feel overloaded or insecure and focus on what is assessed, whether this is aligned with the objectives or their own learning needs or not. With programmatic assessment the aim is to stimulate and benefit self-regulated learning, eventually making ‘learning drives assessment’. 

To promote learning from assessment several factors should be taken into consideration:


  • Each single data point (the low-stake assessments in programmatic assessment) should be optimised for learning. This means that assessment information is as rich as possible. Assessment information that is meaningful can enhance learning in a meaningful way.

  • Assessments and assessment information can be rich in quantitative (i.e. profile scores and reference performance information) and in qualitative ways (narrative information).

  • Be careful with the use of grades in assessment. Grades are known to be the poorest form of feedback and tent to make learners focus on the grade instead of the learning opportunity.

  • Focus on rich, narrative feedback information. Not only on providing such feedback, but imbedded in the assessment programme. For example with the focus on improvement plans, targeted areas of improvement and follow-up activities instead of students’ performance on single assessment tasks.

  • Create opportunities for students’ agency. Students need opportunities to self-regulated their learning and to gain ownership over their learning and assessments. Opportunities to exercise control over the assessment experience is essential (i.e. opportunities to influence assessment information, to collect evidence of progress and to improve). Involve students in the assessment and decision making process. Trust and safety are key words here, taking into account the level of learning or stage of the student and thus the need for scaffolding and direction.

  • Assessment as a learning opportunity requires a safe environment. Students (and teachers) often experience assessment as punitive and summative. Opportunities to fail and improve should be the norm when promoting learning from assessment. Teachers and the relationships students engage in with their teachers are essential. They have the power to stimulate students’ agency and to create a safe learning environment.

  • Align staff development and student training with the goals of learning using assessment. Feedback requires training and should occur in dialogue and collaboration.



  • Schuwirth LWT, Van der Vleuten CPM. Programmatic assessment: From assessment of learning to assessment for learning. Medical Teacher. 2011;33(6):478-85.

  • Van der Vleuten CP, Schuwirth LW, Driessen EW, Dijkstra J, Tigelaar D, Baartman LK, et al. A model for programmatic assessment fit for purpose. Med Teach. 2012;34(3):205-14. PubMed PMID: 22364452. eng.

  • Shute VJ. Focus on formative feedback. Review of educational research. 2008;78(1):153-89.

  • Schut, S., Driessen, E., van Tartwijk, J., van der Vleuten, C., & Heeneman, S. (2018). Stakes in the eye of the beholder: an international study of learners' perceptions within programmatic assessment. Med Educ. doi:10.1111/medu.13532