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What is learning gain?

Learning gain can be defined and understood in a number of ways.

But broadly it is an attempt to measure the improvement in knowledge, skills, work-readiness and personal development made by students during their time spent in higher education.

Why does it matter?

Capturing how students benefit in these different ways makes it easier to understand the quality and impact of higher education.

These measures help universities and colleges understand the effect of different teaching practices. Institutions can then use them to enhance their teaching programmes and the support available to students.  

Such measures also contribute to a broader international understanding about the value of higher education, and help governments shape their policies and investments accordingly.

Broader proposals for quality assessment set out in our consultation and the Government’s Green Paper on higher education, also emphasise the role of these new measures.  

Measuring learning gain

Through independent research, we have defined five ways to categorise methodologies for measuring learning gain.

These are:

  • Standardised tests  
    These measure the skills students acquire, which may be generic or specialised (for example, a skill specific to a discipline).
  • Grades
    Grades measure the progress in students’ achievement by comparing the difference between grades at selected points in time.
  • Self-reporting surveys  
    Such surveys ask students to report the extent to which they think they have gained knowledge and developed skills. The surveys run at a number of points throughout their degree programme.
  • Other qualitative methods
    These encourage students to reflect on their learning, acquired skills and skills gaps. They also stimulate productive discussions between students and their tutors.
  • Mixed methods
    This draws on a range of tools and indicators to track improvement in performance, (for example through a combination of grades, student learning data and student surveys). These measures can be used to predict the way students will perform. 

Page last updated 13 October 2017

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