Friday, May 19, 2017

Visible Learning: see learning through the eyes of students

Professor John Hattie
John Hattie (2015) argues that most teaching techniques work, but what works best is "visible learning": seeing learning from the students point of view, so they learn to learn. In this updated meta-meta-analysis it is easy to get lost ion the detail. But there are some useful, practical points for school and higher education teaching:
  1. Minimal effects of class size: Reducing class size only makes a small improvement in student's learning (Hattie mentions classes of 600 to 15). It occurs to me that the cost of staff is a large part of the education budget, so the way to improve the quality of education may be to increase class sizes. The staff time saved can be devoted to helping students.
  2. Student preparation is important: Flipped classrooms work where students actually do the preparatory work and are aware of what they have learned. As an example, I have students in my "ICT Sustainability Course" undertake a automated on-line quiz after each module.
  3. Reviewing increases learning dramatically: Hattie finds that taking notes does not help learning much, but reviewing the notes does. Also students learn from each other. As an example, I have my ICT Sustainability students answer two or three questions after each module, discuss it and them peer assess each other's contribution.
  4. Problem Based Learning (PBL) later: Hattie suggests that PBL has not been show to be effective as it has been used for first-year students who do not yet have the basic knowledge required. They argue this will be more effective for later years. In my teaching of students in the ANU TechLauncher program, this seems to be the case. Teams of third year and graduate computing and engineering students work on real projects for real clients.
  5. E-learning is just as effective as a classroom: Hattie points out that online and distance courses are just as effective as on campus learning. This has been well established in the research as the so called "No Significant Difference Phenomenon". However, many academics find it difficult to accept that their live lectures make no difference to student learning: live video, recorded video and no video at all is just as effective.
  6. Training university academics to teach: Hattie argues that training university academics to be effective teachers improves student learning. This may seem obvious, but university academics still resist the idea that they need to be trained to actually teach. Particularly at research orientated universities the emphasis is on academics conducting research on teaching, but not undertaking the type of basic learning of teaching techniques which school and vocational college teachers are required to undertake as a condition of employment.
  7. Alignment of Assessment and Course Aims: Hattie points out that students use the assessment as a guide to what is important in a course. As a recent graduate student myself, I found this very much the case. It was frustrating when the instructor had us study what was not assessed, then assessed us on something only briefly touched on in the course.

    There seems to be an article of faith amongst some in academia that students should not be driven by assessment and marks. Curiously, when it comes to rewards in the form of research grants and promotions, these same academics are very much directly driven by short term concrete rewards, not the esoteric pursuit of knowledge. ;-)

    In my own course design, I am careful to show the students the explicit link from the skills demanded by industry, the course learning objectives derived from those skills and the assessment items supporting the learning outcomes. For each module of a course the student can see there is some assessment at the end, with a deadline.

The paper is an update of the earlier book. 

Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn

Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn



Hattie, J. (2015). The applicability of Visible Learning to higher education. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 1(1), 79. retrieved from

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