Introduction: Programmatic assessment (PA) is an approach to assessment aimed at optimizing learning which continues to gain educational momentum. However, the theoretical underpinnings of PA have not been clearly described. An explanation of the theoretical underpinnings of PA will allow educators to gain a better understanding of this approach and, perhaps, facilitate its use and effective implementation. The purpose of this article is twofold: first, to describe salient theoretical perspectives on PA; second to examine how theory may help educators to develop effective PA programs, helping to overcome challenges around PA.
Results: We outline a number of learning theories that underpin key educational principles of PA: constructivist and social constructivist theory supporting meaning making, and longitudinality; cognitivist and cognitive development orientation scaffolding the practice of a continuous feedback process; theory of instructional design underpinning assessment as learning; self-determination theory (SDT), self-regulation learning theory (SRL), and principles of deliberate practice providing theoretical tenets for student agency and accountability.
Conclusion: The construction of a plausible and coherent link between key educational principles of PA and learning theories should enable educators to pose new and important inquiries, reflect on their assessment practices and help overcome future challenges in the development and implementation of PA in their programs.