Assessing significant learning: engaging the process

Ms Cheryll Bird, NSW College of Clinical Pastoral Education (NSWCCPE)

Assessing significant learning: engaging the process

Practical and applied theology requires skills and learning that extend beyond the classroom. This creates challenges in course design and assessment. Fink’s taxonomy of significant learning addresses these in a way that is usable in practical theology.  When Fink’s taxonomy of learning is superimposed on Bloom’s taxonomy  for example, we see the dimensions that contribute to learning beyond the course.  The “human element” is prominent as well as learning how to learn. (

While this may appear to be a variant of transformative learning there are differences. The disorienting dilemma appears to be an endangered species in the literature. More often learning that transforms is an extended reflective process that involves the agency of the learner. Assessment of transformational learning is deeply problematical as it relies almost solely on the claims of the learner and a variable disorienting dilemma (Newman,2012).

Assessing both cognitive and affective aspects of learning requires using observable changes in behaviours as a proxy for interior goals in Bloom’s taxonomy Bertucio,2017). Assessing significant learning is more challenging. We could begin by transparently stating the challenges of this course, the expectations of both students and institution and situating the course within its curricular context.  This gives the adult learner a context in which to locate their learning goals (Fallahi,2011).

Designing a course around active multilayered learning and reflective dialogue creates space for significant learning( Fink,2003) That learning is not necessarily observable to the instructor. Reflective self-assessment of progress towards learning goals enables the student to name and value their learning. If this learning has taken place in a safe reflective group with feedback from multiple viewpoints, the human interaction and relationships developed enhance the development of the human dimension in significant learning. This scenario also provides for multiple layers of feedback which assist student learning and assist teachers in shaping the course (Juhwah,2004).

Student self-assessment allows a student to be aware of the beginning point of this particular learning journey as well as their achievement. Thus where two students may appear to be roughly at the same place, their starting point may be very different and the significance of their learning may also be quite different. Presenting the assessment to peers can confirm or not the learning that is claimed. It also gives a place for peers to comment and add observations to that self-assessment.

Thus the design of the assessment task needs to encourage the student to describe the progress towards their learning goals, to reflect on the criteria they are using to claim that process and to describe the way in which they have learned. At the end of the course the student is more aware of their own learning process and the contribution of their peers to their learning as well as the learning they have claimed.

Creating an assessment rubric for this would concentrate on the process rather than the quantity of end learning. Assessing the clarity and validity of goals, the ability to state the criteria they have used to assess their progress and their awareness of how they learn would be important.  Evaluating their ability to both give and receive feedback and to process that information could also be part of the assessment rubric.

This type of assessment and course design has the potential to be less focused on specific learning but more focused on process and individually adapted learning. It also models ways of being in society that are reflective and responsive which is a significant aspect of practical theology. It also creates potential for integrating the subjects that are more dependent on learning the body of knowledge.


Bertucio, B(2017). “The Cartesian heritage of Bloom’s Taxonomy.” Studies in Philosophy and Education 36.4 477-97

Fink,L.D.(2003) A self-directed guide to designing courses for significant learning.

Juwah.C., Macfaralne-Dick, D.,Matther, B., Nicol,D., Ross,D., (2004) Enhancing student learning through effective formative feedback.  file:///E:/Pesi  seminars/EnhancedLearningThroughEffectiveFeed.pdf

Newman, M.(2012) Calling Transformative Learning into Question: Some Mutinous Thoughts. Adult Education Quarterly 62(1) 36-55. DOI: 10.117707441713610392768.

Ms Cheryll Bird is a Clinical Pastoral Educator. Her background is parish ministry in Australia and New Zealand.

Ms Bird began CPE around 2000, at Rozelle Hospital – a large state psychiatric hospital. After completing 4 units of CPE as well as a Master of Ministry, she began training as a CPE Supervisor initially at St Vincent’s Hospital. It was during that time that she qualified as a Clinical Pastoral Supervisor and completed an MA in Pastoral Supervision then as a Clinical Pastoral Educator in 2017. She also teaches undergraduate CPE at Avondale University College.

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