The concept of ‘learning gain’ has become increasingly prominent in debates about educational provision and achievement in higher education across OECD countries. In England, interest has been heightened by the Higher Education Council for England (HEFCE)’s major research initiative on learning gain, launched in 2015. This includes the funding of 13 projects across the higher education sector, and a national longitudinal study of students’ skills development.
We are one of the 13 HEFCE-funded projects with a focus on trialling and evaluating three approaches to identifying and measuring learning gain using data from cohorts of students across different discipline areas during 2015-16 and 2016-17. The project builds upon previous work carried out at UEA in developing self-efficacy assessments the School of Economics and developing the application of concept inventories in the School of Chemistry. Student marks provide a simple comparator as a third approach to measuring learning gain.
So what, in essence, is learning gain? At its simplest, learning gain might be best understood as the ‘distance travelled’ by a student – that is, the learning achieved between two points in time which could be the start and end of a course or programme. For the purposes of our project, Piloting Measures of Learning gain at UEA, we are utilising a definition of learning gain as: The improvement in knowledge, skills and personal development made by students during their time spent in higher education. This echoes a definition of learning gain by HEFCE (2015).