The aim of this research project was to identify the characteristics and qualities of effective lifelong learners and to develop tools and strategies for tracking, evaluating and recording people’s growth as effective real-life learners. It was funded by the Lifelong Learning Foundation.
There were two major research strands, a scientific strand concerned with identifying the components of ‘learning power’ and a dynamic strand concerned with exploring how those (provisional) dimensions of ‘learning power’ might be useful in teaching and learning in the classroom.
Scientific Strand: What is Learning Power?
A complex mix of dispositions, lived experiences, social relations, values, attitudes and beliefs that coalesce to shape the nature of an individual’s engagement with any particular learning opportunity.
The data have proved remarkably robust over successive factor analytic studies. We have identified seven dimensions of ‘learning power’ and reliable scales to assess these. These dimensions also differentiate between effective learners and ineffective learners. The dimensions are described as changing & learning, meaning making, curiosity, creativity, learning relationships, strategic awareness and resilience
These dimensions are all inter-related aspects of learning power, and people whose profile is low on these dimensions appear to be fragile and dependent as learners. Thus the ELLI profile is a means of identifying the strengths and weaknesses of individual learners. Strategic awareness appears to be a ‘second order’ or learned dimension – in other words it is something that can be developed and taught over time, and in some ways functions as the individual’s ‘monitoring system’ for the other dimensions. These ELLI learning dimensions are rather like a shadow of the formal curriculum, and are applicable to all subjects and disciplines in the classroom and beyond.
The research project gathered data on nearly 2000 learners from the age of 7 through to adult learners. What was clear from this data was that over time, and through the course of formal schooling students actually become weaker on ALL learning dimensions, but especially creativity. At the same time they actually become MORE dependent and fragile as learners.
Dynamic Strand: Building Learning Power in the Classroom
The school based research entailed teachers working with these learning dimensions in practical ways in order to understand how they may be useful to promote learner self awareness and growth in the classroom. The teachers found the learning dimensions easy to use and exciting because they reach to the heart of teacher professional purpose. Sixteen teachers, across four schools, received learning profiles for individuals in their classes and the average profiles for the whole class. They then used this information to decide on new ‘learning interventions’ that were specifically aimed at nurturing students’ learning power. These interventions ranged from re-organising the way in which information was presented to students to a specific focus on self-assessment using the language learning.
These interventions made a difference to students’ learning power profiles after two terms – in particular they became more resilient and more strategically aware of their own learning and less dependent and fragile. There were also indications that students actually achieved more in terms of standard learning outcomes. The control cohort, who matched the experimental group, actually became weaker on the learning dimensions, in keeping with the evidence from the whole cohort.
The key themes underpinning the learning interventions were – teacher professional vision and values, the creation of positive interpersonal relationships which involved trust, affirmation and challenge, quality of dialogue, use of learning language, modelling and imitation and teacher professional judgement. There is no single formula for success, but these dimensions appear to be an important part of the ecology of learning. The critical factor is the professional vision of the teacher and the school climate.
At a time when there is overwhelming evidence of the devastatingly negative effects of much summative assessment on the quality and quantity of learner motivation (Harlen and Deakin-Crick 2002), where students are more and more oriented towards ‘trading for grades’ and teachers to ‘teaching the test’, these findings are of strategic importance for education policy and practice.