Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Targeting Assessment for Learning within Pharmacy Education

Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Targeting Assessment for Learning within Pharmacy Education

Article excerpt


Students' cognitive development in learning is a necessary and important aspect of higher education. (1-3) Just as readers have seen children grow physically and mature mentally, adults develop as well. While some models of adult development have stages through which all healthy adults eventually progress, (4) moral, (5) cognitive, (6) and intellectual (7) development models identify advanced stages that not all adults will attain. These models of moral, cognitive, and intellectual development can be strongly influenced by further education. (8) For Doctorof Pharmacy (PharmD) students, educators need to ensure the development of each student pharmacist from the beginning of their PharmD program until their graduation. Further, in this era of accountability, educators need to assess, document, and show learners' development. The purpose of this commentary is to challenge traditional assessment practices and suggest one approach, assessment for learning (AFL), for use in pharmacy education.

What is Assessment for Learning?

For over half a century, education has grappled with formative and summative learning assessment uses. (9) Formative assessments use informal assessments focused on providing feedback for improvement; these are often contrasted with summative assessments that use formal evaluations at the summation of a topic and/or course. Much of traditional learning and programmatic assessment use an assessment of learning (AOL) paradigm, (10-14) which is closely related to summative assessment. Using assessments summatively for evaluation decisions can be more straightforward and concrete to understand for external stakeholders. Alternatively, for internal stakeholders such as educators and students, using assessments formatively can be far more powerful for meaningful growth in students' learning.

In more recent decades, use of formative assessment at times has included feedback to a program and/or instructor. (15) The concept of AFL was used to put the focus back on students and their learning. (10-14) Thus, AFL involves assessed students and includes only those formative assessment uses focused on promoting students' learning. That is, using assessments formatively and AFL are not entirely synonymous; not all formative assessment uses are AFL. (16) For example with the Pharmacy Curriculum Outcomes Assessment (PCOA), a formative assessment use could be to evaluate an institution's PharmD curriculum from their students' scores; this is not AFL. However, AFL is providing each student with feedback from their individual results, as well as suggestions for each student's improvement. In short, AFL is assessment focused on promoting each individual student's learning, and "is a catalyst for growth and development." (17)

In literature reviews, this AOL/AFL terminology has been uncommon, (18,19) and appears quite new to pharmacy education. Meanwhile primary and secondary education texts on AOL/AFL have been available for some time. (10,11,20) A decade ago, this very enriching concept was introduced and contextualized for higher education. (13,14,21) More recently, the classroom-based AFL concept was extended to programmatic assessment of medical (professional) education, (12) with insight for using assessment data from AFL within evidence-based, summative program-level decisions. As further indication of its importance, AFL has become a section title in the health-professions education journal Medical Education. (16) At this time, discussion of an AFL approach has proven pertinent and should be helpful within pharmacy education.

Notable Assessment for Learning Methods

Two notable AFL methods are summarized here. They should not be construed as the only AFL methods; however, these two methods have recently been described within pharmacy education.

Portfolios. Student portfolios are common among pharmacy schools. (22) Most often in today's improved technological era, online portfolios are employed (ie, e-portfolios). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.