Why is work-based assessment important?
Many students opt to learn in a work-based environment rather than on a university or college campus. This may be to support their study or continually update their skills after an initial period of education.
Many institutions develop expertise in collaboration with employers to deliver and assess learning in work-based environments. This type of education can demand different modes of curriculum delivery and assessment to meet the needs of the workplace host.
Work-based learning may involve:
- Work placements to gain experience of working environments while in full-time education or training ie, a sandwich course, year in industry or apprenticeship in a professional setting
- Learning at work eg, acquisition or renewal of skills while in post, plus any workforce development initiated by the employer
- Learning through work ie, re-engagement with education or training to achieve a better standing at work using the workplace as a learning environment or point of reference
See also our section on employability and assessment which looks at ways in which traditional college and university courses can enhance a student's future employment prospects.
What are the common problems?
Assessment design in work-based learning resembles real-world challenges as closely as possible, preferably those arising from authentic workplace issues and problems. It demands greater flexibility and collaboration over the timing, location and mode of assessments than institutionally based provision and in some cases it may require a shift in thinking over the value of collaborative and reflective outputs in summative assessment.
Work-based learning contexts require different approaches to assessment.
Learners on work placement are likely to be assessed by workplace mentors for competencies/skills, and by institutional tutors on their ability to relate theory to practice. Assessors in the two different locations must have a mutual understanding of the assessment criteria and standards, and use a common vocabulary to aid student understanding.
Equivalence of standards, or at least similar grade distributions may be difficult to achieve if those marking in the workplace do not also mark in an academic context.
Learning at work (such as continuing professional development) can involve activities such as self and peer evaluation which may be unfamiliar for many students (see also our sections on peer assessment and peer review).
Both learning at work and through work can involve a combination of online learning and learning and assessment activities in the workplace. Study patterns may not fit the traditional academic year and computers must be available in the workplace that are suitable for the intended forms of assessment.
A common observation in Ofsted reports on failing colleges is that too few apprentices have their skills assessed in a place of work.
How might we use technology and what are the benefits?
It can enable the work environment to be a location for assessing specialist and professional skills in ways that are authentic and convenient. Technology can also facilitate collaboration and give students who might otherwise feel isolated the sense of being part of a learning community.
Further benefits include:
- Capture of workplace skills in situ (digital video, audio, still photography, webcams)
- Immediate learning reflection (internet-connected mobile devices, e-portfolios)
- Efficient collaboration between tutors and workplace assessors (web conferencing)
- Contextualised assessment management (mobile access to competency maps and assessment records)
- Delivery, assessment and accreditation of short courses in any location (e-portfolios, VLEs)
- Convenient, secure submission, return and storage of assignments (online assessment management tools)
- Online access to feedback/feed forward (podcasts, voice boards)
- Asynchronous and synchronous communication with tutors, peers and workplace mentors (voice boards, VLEs, e-portfolios, social networking tools, blogs).
How does work-based assessment relate to the lifecycle?
At the specifying stage you will design assessments where the method and topics relate to the particular work context. During the setting stage you will tailor the assessment schedule to the particular learner profile and ensure there is clarity and consistency in the requirements for all stakeholders including academics, workplace assessors and students.
At the supporting stage you will need to ensure that students are aware of all the possible sources of support and help them to make full use of collaborative tools so they don't feel a sense of isolation. You will also ensure clear and robust arrangements for submitting assignments.
The reflecting stage will be of particular importance with both self and peer reflection as important features of assessment practice in these contexts.
What resources can help?
- The University of Exeter discuss how to prepare students for personal development reviews in the workplace
- See also our case studies relating to employability and assessment in FE and Skills for example at S&B Autos Automotive Academy Bristol
Assessment, feedback and accreditation
Our video show how the University of Derby supports work-based learning with technology including the accreditation of work-based assessors as university lecturers.
Assessment and learning in practice
Our video shows how five universities collaborated to transform assessment in practice settings through the use of a shared competency map and mobile devices
Our video shows how the University of Wolverhampton used the PebblePad e-portfolio tool for delivering and assessing short courses to SMEs
E-portfolios for work-based assessment
Our video shows how Thanet College uses e-portfolios for work-based assessment