Following the recent publication of the Teaching and Learning Centre’s Assessment Toolkit, Dr Erik Blair considers the ongoing nature of learning and assessment.


There are three parts to gaining a UK motorcycle licence. In the first stage you must get a provisional licence and complete a compulsory basic training (CBT) certificate to ride on public roads. After this you can ride, showing L plates, for up to two years on a motorbike with an engine below 125cc. Before the two years are up, you must complete a theory test and a practical test. The CBT is assessed by an experienced instructor on a track off the public highway. The instructor judges whether you are competent to handle a motorbike based on a number of set tasks and criteria. The theory test takes place in a computer suite where you are asked for your responses to a number of questions and you are assessed for your reaction time in a series of potentially dangerous scenarios. The final test takes place on the road – an examiner follows you on their motorbike and speaks to you through a headset as you ride through traffic. The examiner assesses your ability to perform certain manoeuvres and marks you down for each error you make. To get the licence involves three forms of summative assessment but, in actual fact, there is so much more assessment going on.

From the moment I first sat on a motorbike I was self-assessing: Was I really going to do this?; Could I handle the complicated gear changes?; Would I crash? I was also self-assessing throughout the period that I was learning. I knew that I was good at finding my position on the road but my gear selection was poor. I could negotiate roundabouts but I found it difficult to turn at slow speed. When I found myself in motorbike shops buying helmets, gloves and waterproofs, I felt like a fake. I was surrounded by people I assumed to be ‘real’ bikers; they were cool and knew the lingo, but I was an outsider pretending he knew what he was doing. Even once I gained my licence I was not convinced that I was legitimate. My reflections told me that I was not yet the finished article and that I needed more time on the road to truly feel that I had made it. But after many years on the road, I am still learning and still asking myself questions.

For many, assessment is conceptualised as an end-point concept: we learn X and then we are tested on X. But my motorbike example suggests that to simply focus on the assessment of the product is rather naïve. There is also much to be gained in assessing the process. All learning involves process. Whether we are learning a physical skill or trying to understand conceptual knowledge, there is still a process of learning taking place, and throughout that process the learner is involved in reflective self-assessment. Instructors, teachers, and supervisors also assess their students as they work through a process. My CBT instructor did not just judge my capacity at the end of the day, they were assessing me constantly and refining their teaching based on their evaluation of my needs. Research supervisors do the same thing – the draft chapters and tutorial discussions are where the process of research are assessed. No thesis should ever simply be assessed after it is complete.

The process-product model of assessment can help us to see the breadth of assessment that is taking place throughout the learning experience, and it is very hard to have one without the other. An end-point assessment is not really an end. Once a student has passed a course or gained a qualification, they don’t suddenly claim to be an expert nor do they purge themselves of this ‘completed’ knowledge in order to make way for new learning. Product assessment simply moves the learner on to the next stage of their learning, where they will become involved in process assessment. From this perspective, assessment is constant but its form changes.

I have been involved in education my whole life – as a student and as a teacher. But I have not actually completed any learning yet because every time I complete an exam, gain a qualification or write a paper I find myself moved onto the next phase, then the next phase, then the next. In this way I will never ‘learn’ anything but I will always be learning. Understanding the breadth of assessment is not a matter of simply knowing about the many, many ways that the product of learning can be assessed, it is also about understanding the many, many ways that the process of learning can be assessed.

The LSE Teaching and Learning Centre has recently developed an Assessment Toolkit that is a great place to start if colleagues are seeking more guidance on assessment methods; assessment conditions; accessible assessment, and why we should be assessing in the first place. Perhaps those with responsibility for courses and programmes could review this toolkit and reflect on the breadth of assessment that they offer from a process and product perspective.

If you would like to know more about assessment, the TLC will be running a workshop on Diversifying Assessment on 30 November, please click the link for more details or to book a place.

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