Open Lecture on Learning Gain

Our initial Open Lecture for the 2017-18 academic year was on Learning Gain and was delivered by Prof Simon Lancaster from East Anglia University, who reflected on his personal experiences based on feedback from his own students but also from his participation to an institutional project on learning gain.

Learning gain is often used to measure the learning that has taken place throughout the students’ journey. HEFCE’s definition of learning gain is: the ‘distance travelled’, or the improvement in knowledge, skills, work-readiness and personal development demonstrated by students at two points in time

While this sounds like a noble pursuit, the ‘measuring’ part is not without issues. In fact, the elevation of data to ‘learning analytics’ based on proxies rather than fully justified metrics is a rather hurried effort to evidence ‘impact’, which has been the ideology of this decade in UK HE.

There is a real danger here, as clumsy use of data can do more harm than good, which brings to my mind Cathy O’Neil’s book titled ‘Weapons of Math Destruction: how big data increases inequality and threatens democracy’. To bring this back to our HE context, as Simon says in his talk, HEfCE’s learning gain project is unlikely to work as, even if they find the perfect way of measuring learning gain, universities will pursuit it relentlessly until they learn how to game it. Furthermore, the current measures might ‘stifle developments in teaching’, according to Simon. Plenty of food for thought provided in the talk – you can watch the recording of it here:


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