The Gradeless Paradox: Emancipatory Promises but Ambivalent Effects of Gradeless Learning in Business Education

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperResearchpeer-review


The negative impacts of grades on students’ approach to learning and well-being have renewed the interest in gradeless learning in higher education, with the current literature focusing on the positive outcomes for students, including the advancement of student learning, reduced stress, increased motivation, and enhanced performance. While the idea of freeing students from the weight of grades sounds promising, grades are so integral to the educational system that the effects of learning without grades may not provide the relief intended. In this article, we present a qualitative case study of how business students experienced having gradeless learning in their first year of an undergraduate program, during which all grades were substituted with pass/fail assessments and feedback. Our data show that students felt true ambivalence about learning without grades. Although gradeless learning was associated with less pressure, higher motivation, and a more collaborative approach to learning, it also engendered feelings of identity loss and uncertainty among students about their own performance and future opportunities. We explore these dynamics by applying the notion of ambivalence in the course of transitions as an original and fertile perspective from which to study students’ experiences of both the emancipatory and constraining effects of gradeless learning
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2021
Number of pages31
Publication statusPublished - 2021
EventThe Academy of Management Annual Meeting 2021: Bringing the Manager Back in Management - Online, Virtual, Online
Duration: 29 Jul 20214 Aug 2021
Conference number: 81


ConferenceThe Academy of Management Annual Meeting 2021
CityVirtual, Online
Internet address


  • Gradeless learning
  • Grades
  • Ambivalence
  • Business education
  • Transition

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