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When to assess?

One of the goals of professional education is to facilitate the learner towards being independent and self-directed, so that they have the capability to learn throughout their professional lives. This does not happen automatically; teachers have a key role in helping to facilitate this and one way to embed it into the learning process is to involve learners in identifying their learning needs.

In the Effective Feedback module, we look at how feedback given to the learner is a key part of the overall learning cycle. Working with learners to assess their own educational needs is also a key part of this cycle. Learners need to be made aware and be reminded of the overall learning outcomes of the programme, teaching session or clinical activity in which they are engaged. Identifying and assessing learning needs is part of the experiential learning process (Kolb, 1984).

Kolb suggests that learning happens in a circular fashion, that learning is experiential (learning by doing), and that ideas are formed and modified through experiences. These ideas underpin the idea of the ‘reflective practitioner’ and the shift from ‘novice’ to ‘expert’, which occurs as part of professional development.

This cycle is similar to the ‘plan – do – reflect – review’ cycle which is often used in professional development or appraisal activities.

We can see that the ideas underpinning both these models are that the learner and teacher work together to identify shared needs, plan learning or development activities to meet those needs, carry out activities and then reflect and review against the needs or identified learning outcomes. The process is cyclical, iterative and learner-centred.

In practical terms, the teacher will identify when to assess the learning needs of individuals or groups of learners. Certainly, this should be at the start of a programme, meeting or teaching session, but as in the earlier example, time should also be built in during the course of a programme or session to review progress, to ensure effective and appropriate learning is taking place, and at the end of a session or course of study to plan the next steps and link the learning to where the learner is going next. The last activity should ideally be carried out as part of a final placement assessment but this often is more focussed on what has been achieved rather than determining how the learning and development might be taken forward.


Thinking point

What do you think the disadvantages are of a ‘reflection on action’ approach for the learner?

In your organisation/programme, how do learners take learning forward from one course, placement or module?

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