H800: Assessment and Learning are (possibly) not the same thing


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I’m a happy bunny this week as the H800 module results came out, and I passed with a Distinction. As I have quite a few more assessments to go before the MA is done, I thought I’d take time out to reflect on what assessments mean. Obviously it’s great to have formal validation that all that reading, reflecting, studying, note taking, discussing paid off and I achieved what I set out to do. But does the assessment really make a huge difference to the actual experience of the course , the actual learning and what I personally gained from it?

When we first started H800, we had to consider what ‘learning’ was. We looked at Anna Sfard’s (1998) metaphors of aquisition and participation, as well as Sian Bayne’s (2005) notion of learning as identity change. ‘Learning’ can of course be all these, so this isn’t really about choosing, but reflecting on what this particular learning experience has meant to me, and what the ‘final’ paper result means.

I certainly ‘acquired’ much new knowledge as a result of the assessments in H800. My ‘specialist’ technologies in the EMA were mobile technologies and Twitter and I certainly feel my core knowledge about these tools and their affordances has a secure foundation. I did a substantial amount of research around these technologies, reading much of the literature around these. However, there was a bewildering array of papers, subjects, topics and themes covered in the H800 syllabus, and of course there is no way of remembering or applying all of many of these to my immediate work. The knowledge that I ‘acquired’ therefore is limited by my actual cognitive capacity and my immediate need to use it (although I feel I can now draw an Activity Theory diagram in my sleep).

In terms of learning as ‘participation’, I certainly feel more capable of participating in a community of educators, of learning technologists, of academics and of elearning practitioners. The norms of community behavior virtually have been honed, as has building a personal learning environment in Twitter especially.

Perhaps for me the greatest surprise has been a kind of identity change and transformation of what I can be, have done and can achieve personally. And this is where the importance of assessments come in. The OU’s continuous assessments (TMAs) and the end of module assessment (EMA), which substitues for an exam, were pretty tough, especially to achieve the higher marks. I did indeed sweat blood and tears researching and thinking, of deciding on my argument, of deciding what would best showcase what I had learned, and how to communicate it. In the midst of this, I suddenly found myself getting ‘aha’ moments when suddenly something clicked. Without the pressure of an assignment requirement, I don’t think I would ever have got to this point and for that I am grateful. Whether it was the combination of pressure, the fear of failure, the need to prove something to myself and justify the time and financial commitment, the personal hurdles that had to be overcome (time management, self-disclipline, referencing skills, asking for help) have helped me learn more about myself as a person, what I want, what makes me happy, what motivates me and where my own strengths and weaknesses lie.

So on reflection, I think that immersive and disruptive assessments do matter. We are all motivated by different things and assessments that might result in a qualification, an accolade, a new career, or a promotion can be seen as ‘strategic’ and in opposition to the notion of learning for its own sake. But they do help in spurring some sort of reaction whether positive or negative and that is itself a learning experience and outcome.


Bayne, S. (2005) ‘Deceit, desire and control: the identities of learners and teachers in cyberspace’ in Land, R. and Bayne, S. (eds) Education in Cyberspace, Abingdon, RoutledgeFalmer. 

Sfard, A. (1998) ‘On two metaphors for learning and the dangers of choosing just one’, Educational Researcher, vol.27, no.2, pp.4–13

4 thoughts on “H800: Assessment and Learning are (possibly) not the same thing

  1. Brilliant! I tossed between 40s and 80s on H800 and blew the EMA with a last minute rewrite based on a personal passion 😦 I’m too inclined to get creative, sek out new ideas and authors and generally tie my head in knots. Not to say I don’t enjoy it. The next trick will be to APPLY it.

  2. Hi JonathanThanks for stopping by. I know the feeling of wanting to get creative and seek out new ideas and authors. At times I felt constrained by the assessment criteria (especially the word counts). On H808 recently I have really struggled with the fairly prescriptive assessment requirements and needing to focus on referencing core texts, whereas I thought I had found more relevant stuff for my context – in the end I took a risk on this. I am still awaiting the results 🙂

  3. Hello Sukaina,Only got to see this blog post now. Congrats with your grade! (I missed the coveted Distinction grade by half a percentage). I agree that ‘immersive and disruptive’ assessments are important to force learners into ‘deep’ learning and weaving various research with personal experiences. I would have appreciated some feedback on the EMA though, which was completely lacking.Stefaan

  4. Thanks for stopping by. I can’t believe your mark wasn’t rounded up ;-(I agree that feedback on the EMA should be provided if the purpose of the learning is more than just the grade but ongoing development. However, I thought we do get feedback as the results page says feedback will be posted to you but I have yet to receive anything.

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