Learning Gain

On 10/11/16 I attended the national HEFCE learning gain conference to find out more about what has been happening across the sector in this area of work and to think about what implications it might have for YSJU.

Why is there an interest in learning gain?

  1. There are many international examples and the government is interested in how models might work in our UK context
  2. Learning gain is seen as a way to understand and support student progress
  3.  Because of the diversity of the student population there is particular interest in how learning gain supports a range of students
  4. Concerns about value for money and measuring learning gain may demonstrate what difference higher education makes as well as to provide information for students and to improve learning and teaching.

Definition of Learning Gain: Learning gain is the improvement in knowledge, skills, work readiness, personal development made by students during their time in higher education.

What’s been happening so far?

Stage 1

Government commissioned RAND to explore learning gain and produce a report . They identified a range of measurement methods: grades, surveys, standardised tests, qualitative methods, mixed methods. RAND suggested examples should be piloted.

Stage 2

70 institutions involved in pilots, all longitudinal apart from 1, so it will be 3-4 years until any conclusions reached. The methods are varied both in terms of approach and what it is they are trying to measure. So far most have only had one data collection point.  Many are collecting data that focuses on employability. Consideration is being given as to how the results are brought together to develop coherent conclusions to inform the sector.

Stage 3

National longitudinal project with 10 institutions testing the same approaches to measuring learning gain launched on 1/11/16. Informed by the approach used at Wabash in US and changed for our context. Aim is to find out the best and scaleable methods and approaches and to find out how robust and useful the data is.

3 pillar approach as follows:

  1. Survey on Critical thinking (6 questions) and problem solving (6 questions). Questions will change at assessment points but at each assessment point questions are a mix of hard and easy questions.
  2. Self-reporting questionnaire to explore soft skills and attitudes to study- these remain the same through the study.
  3. Student engagement – this will be a selection of UKES questions included from the second assessment point. These questions will remain the same at each assessment point.


It is currently being administered to 31000 students in 10 universities. Institutions will receive information back on cognitive progress of their students at each data collection point. Students will also receive information about their input including the right answers to the critical thinking surveys.

The outcomes of the learning gain projects will take some time because of the longitudinal nature of the projects so it may be a while until we have a reliable and robust method to measure learning gain.

Mandy Asghar

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