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‘Learning gain’ is defined as the improvement in knowledge, skills, work-readiness and personal development made by students during their time spent in higher education. 

This definition arises from research commissioned by HEFCE, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Higher Education Academy, which conducted an evaluation of the range of approaches currently used to measure learning gain, both in this country and around the world [Note 1].

On the basis of the research, five broad approaches have been identified, which will now be tested and analysed through the pilot projects:

    1. Grades – measuring the progress in students’ achievement by comparing the difference between grades at two points in time. This could include using a standardised measure (such as the grade point average), or using a set of grades (standardised or not) to predict future grades.
    2. Self-reporting surveys – asking students to report the extent to which they consider themselves to have gained knowledge and developed skills, through a survey administered at a number of points throughout their degree programme.
    3. Standardised tests – measuring the acquisition of certain generic or specialised skills, through a test that could be administered to students either as part of their formative or summative assessment for their degree, or as an additional exercise alongside the course.
    4. Other qualitative methods – including encouraging students to reflect on their learning, acquired skills and remaining skills gaps, and to facilitate a formative exchange between students and their tutors.
    5. Mixed methods – using a combination of methods and indicators to track improvement in performance, for example through a combination of grades, student learning data and student surveys.

A panel including representatives from universities and students recommended 12 projects for funding, listed in the table below, from the 49 bids received. The pilot projects will use a range of methods to explore questions about learning gain, including:

  • what different approaches could be used to measure learning gain
  • how robust and useful the data and other evidence arising from these approaches are, for example for supporting students and improving learning and teaching
  • Which methods and approaches have the potential to be scalable for use across the sector.

Madeleine Atkins, Chief Executive of HEFCE, said:

‘I am delighted by the sector's response to the Learning Gain call [Note 2]. This has enabled us to ensure that a very wide and representative range of institutions will be working with us on learning gain. The outcomes from this work have the potential to support measurement and indicators at institutional and even national level, but also crucially to improve learning and teaching practice in universities and colleges for the benefit of students.’ 


Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson said:

'This research shows there is a wide range of approaches to measuring learning among students in higher education. Understanding the methods and the results from these pilots will help assess teaching quality and excellence and ultimately provide better value for all students.'

In addition to the pilot projects, the programme will support a number of complementary activities, including exploring the use of standardised tests, a multi-institutional pilot of an existing international learning gain assessment programme, and an assessment of what current data sources can show about the learning gain of students.

HEFCE will also be organising regular national conferences and meetings, building on the UK’s first national conference on learning gain held earlier in the year, to ensure the communication and take-up of findings throughout the sector, and that all universities and colleges are able to benefit from the dialogue with national and international experts.

The table below lists the pilot projects funded by HEFCE, and gives an overview of the methods that will be tested. 

Lead institution

Number of partners

Project type

Project methodology

 

Grades

Surveys

Standardised test

Other qualitative methods

Mixed methods

Centre for Enhancement of Learning and Teaching – Birmingham City University

3

Longitudinal

X

X

X

 

X

The Open University

2

Longitudinal

X

X

 

X

X

Ravensbourne

 

8

Cross-sectional

X

X

 

X

X

The Careers Group (University of London)

12

Longitudinal and cross sectional

 

X

 

 

 

The Manchester College

15

Longitudinal

X

X

 

 

X

University of East Anglia

1

Cross-sectional

X

 

X

X

X

University of Lincoln

2

Longitudinal

X

 

X

X

X

University of Manchester

0

Longitudinal

X

X

X

X

X

Plymouth University

6

Longitudinal

X

 

 

X

X

University of Portsmouth

4

Longitudinal

X

 

X

X

X

University of Reading

0

Longitudinal

X

X

X

 

X

University of Warwick

18

Longitudinal and cross-sectional

X

X

X

X

X

The following is a list of the more than 70 institutions who are either leading or are partners within a HEFCE funded learning gain pilot project.

Notes

1.     In 2014, HEFCE commissioned RAND Europe to undertake a critical evaluation of the range of assessment methods and tools for measuring learning gain, to inform future work in the context of English higher education. ‘Learning gain in higher education’ includes more detailed information on different methods of measuring learning gain that are currently in use both nationally and internationally. These methods are now being evaluated through pilot projects funded by HEFCE. 

2.           See ‘Invitation to submit expressions of interest in piloting and evaluating measures of learning gain’ (HEFCE Circular letter 04/2015).