Purpose Workplace-based assessments (WBAs) were originally intended to inform learning and development by structuring effective observation-based feedback. The success of this innovation has not yet been established due in part to the widely varied tools, implementation strategies and research approaches. Using a conceptual framework of experience, trajectories and reifications in workplace learning, we aimed to explore trainer and trainee experiences and perceptions of the learning value of WBAs. Study design Trainers and trainees who had used at least one WBA in the previous year were invited to participate in semistructured interviews for this phenomenological study. We used a template analysis method to explore and compare the experiences of the two groups, using the emergent themes to develop an understanding of the impact of these experiences on perceptions of learning value. Results Nine trainers and eight trainees participated in the study. Common themes emerged among the two groups around issues of responsibility and engagement along with (mis)understandings of the purpose of the individual tools. Trainer-specific themes emerged related to the concurrent implementation of a new e-portfolio and perceptions of increased workload. Trainees associated WBA with a training structure support value but could not translate experiences into learning values. Conclusions WBAs provide trainees with a justified reason to approach trainers for feedback. WBAs, however, are not being reified as the formative assessments originally intended. A culture change may be required to change the focus of WBA research and reconceptualise this set of tools and methods as a workplace learning practice.