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Is the learning value of workplace-based assessment being realised? A qualitative study of trainer and trainee perceptions and experiences
  1. Aileen Barrett1,2,
  2. Rose Galvin3,
  3. Albert J J A Scherpbier4,
  4. Pim W Teunissen4,5,
  5. Ann O'Shaughnessy1,
  6. Mary Horgan2
  1. 1Education and Professional Development Unit, Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, Dublin, Ireland
  2. 2School of Medicine, Brookfield Health Sciences Centre, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland
  3. 3Faculty of Education and Health Sciences, Discipline of Physiotherapy, Department of Clinical Therapies, University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland
  4. 4Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, University of Maastricht, Maastricht, Netherlands
  5. 5Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  1. Correspondence to Aileen Barrett, School of Medicine, Brookfield Health Sciences Centre, University College Cork, Cork, Ireland; aileenbarrett{at}


Purpose Workplace-based assessments (WBAs) were originally intended to inform learning and development by structuring effective observation-based feedback. The success of this innovation has not yet been established due in part to the widely varied tools, implementation strategies and research approaches. Using a conceptual framework of experience, trajectories and reifications in workplace learning, we aimed to explore trainer and trainee experiences and perceptions of the learning value of WBAs.

Study design Trainers and trainees who had used at least one WBA in the previous year were invited to participate in semistructured interviews for this phenomenological study. We used a template analysis method to explore and compare the experiences of the two groups, using the emergent themes to develop an understanding of the impact of these experiences on perceptions of learning value.

Results Nine trainers and eight trainees participated in the study. Common themes emerged among the two groups around issues of responsibility and engagement along with (mis)understandings of the purpose of the individual tools. Trainer-specific themes emerged related to the concurrent implementation of a new e-portfolio and perceptions of increased workload. Trainees associated WBA with a training structure support value but could not translate experiences into learning values.

Conclusions WBAs provide trainees with a justified reason to approach trainers for feedback. WBAs, however, are not being reified as the formative assessments originally intended. A culture change may be required to change the focus of WBA research and reconceptualise this set of tools and methods as a workplace learning practice.

  • postgraduate medical education
  • workplace-based assessment
  • phenomenology
  • learning value

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  • Contributors AB conceived the study and the original research questions, carried out the interviews, coordinated the data analysis, drafted the paper and coordinated edits. RG collaborated on all stages of the study including the design of the study, the interview schedule, data analysis and the paper write-up. AJJAS collaborated on all aspects of the study design and analysis and co-supervised the PI. PWT advised on the conceptual framework and contributed to the final analysis and write-up. AO collaborated on the study design, ethics application and final write-up. MH advised on all aspects of the study and co-supervised the PI. All authors approved the final draft.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Ethics approval The study was approved by the Research Ethics Committee of the Institution. Given the small potential pool of participants and the position of the principal investigator (AB) working with trainers and trainees, we included a study gatekeeper for all recruitment processes.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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