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  3. A longitudinal mixed-method study of learning gain: applying Affective-Behaviour-Cognition framework at three institutions

A longitudinal mixed-method study of learning gain: applying Affective-Behaviour-Cognition framework at three institutions

What research questions the project addresses, aims & themes

One of the challenges facing higher education is in understanding what counts for an excellent educational outcome, how students’ learning can be measured effectively, and how these measurements might be used to guide current investments and inform future developments. While there is a substantial body of research examining learning gains in the USA and in the Netherlands (Bowman, 2010; Pascarella, Blaich, Martin, & Hanson, 2011; Tempelaar, Rienties, & Giesbers, 2015a), recent review of the learning gain literature by McGrath, Guerin, Harte, Frearson, and Manville (2015) indicated that approaches to measuring  learning gains are in their infancy in higher education in England. As such, developing an evidence-based approach of learning gains that can be applied across Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs) would be of value to students, institutions and national organisations. Most studies of learning gains have focussed solely on cognitive learning gains (Bowman, 2010; Liu, 2009; McGrath et al., 2015). In line with well-established educational psychology principles and recent learning analytics approaches, which enable greater insight to be achieved from large data sets, we propose an Affective-Behaviour-Cognition (ABC) model of learning, to broaden the concept of learning gain, and – more importantly – to develop, test, implement and evaluate a range of measurements for learning gains at each of the ABC levels.

How the research questions are addressed by the project (methodology and activity/environment)

The ABC learning gains project seeks to address this issue by adopting a framework that allows an examination of three critical factors (affective, behavioural and cognitive) in a suitable and scalable way, to provide broadly-based and accurate information about students’ learning gains. The ABC model of learning gains will be tested through a longitudinal mixed-method study of learning gains by applying an ABC model. This model will be applied across three diverse institutions – The Open University (distance learning), Oxford Brookes University (campus based learning with large portfolio of vocational training), and University of Surrey (campus based learning and around half of students doing placements during their degree) - using principles of learning analytics. This three year longitudinal study builds on previous longitudinal design studies (Calvert, 2014; Richardson, 2012; Rienties & Nolan, 2014). The study will consist of two phases. The goal of Phase 1 is to compare the relative performance of the students’ learning gains using secondary data analysis of pre-existing ABC data for academic years 2013-2015.  The goal of Phase 2 is to understand the complexities of learning gains by conducting a follow-up mixed-method analysis of new ABC quantitative and qualitative data for academic years 2015-2017. As such, the ABC learning gains project will scrutinise three forms of data allowing triangulation and considering different dimensions in learning gain. This study will run across three different institutions to access the suitability and scalability of the ABC learning gains in the HE sector in England.

Findings and outputs

None at the moment.

Project impact

Reflecting on the need for Higher Education in England to establish what counts as an excellent educational outcome, how students’ learning can be measured effectively, and how these measurements might be used to guide current investments and inform future developments. The ABC learning gain project will provide the sector with both early results from secondary data analyses and from follow-up primary replication analyses and triangulation of learning analytics perspectives a sustainable and scalable model for the application of learning analytics to measure learning gains in higher education. The results of this project will help to unpack under which conditions and for which types of learners learning gains measurements can provide reliable, accurate information to institutions. In its turn, institutions across England could use that data for enhancing students’ learning and provide more information to prospective students about the value of higher education.


Learning Analytics, Learning Gains, Higher Education, Affective-Behaviour-Cognition Model, ABC model.

People involved:

Open University UK:

Dr Bart Rienties (Principal Investigator) is a Reader in Learning Analytics at the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University UK. Trained as economist and educational psychologist at Maastricht University (NL), he conducts multi-disciplinary research on work-based and collaborative learning environments and focuses on the role of social interaction in learning, which is published in leading academic journals and books. His primary research interests are focussed on Learning Analytics, Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, and the role of motivation in learning. He successfully led a range of institutional/national/European projects and received several awards for his educational innovation projects.

Dr Jekaterina Rogaten is a research associate in Learning Analytics at the Institute of Educational Technology at the Open University UK. Her main research interests are in academic performance and progress in Higher Education, creativity, flow and metacognition. She published in National and International journals and presented at European and International conferences. She also holds a lectureship position in positive psychology in the College of Fashion at the University of the Arts, London. 

Prof Denise Whitelock is Professor of Technology Enhanced Assessment and Learning and Associate Director of Quality Enhancement. Her research involves working in multidisciplinary teams to build feedback systems that enhance the student learning experience. She holds Visiting Chairs at the Autonoma University, Barcelona and the British University in Dubai, and is a trustee for the Society of Research into Higher Education. 

Prof Allison Littlejohn is a Professor of Learning Technology at the Institute of Educational Technology and Academic Director of Learning and Teaching at the Open University, UK. She has worked throughout her career in the area of learning innovation, technology, knowledge creation and academic-business partnerships. She has worked with multinational companies, including Shell, BP International and Conoco-Philips. Her vision is to bring together ideas from higher education and industry, encouraging cross-sector thinking and working across traditional boundaries between sectors and disciplines to transform the ways professionals learn. 

Dr Simon Cross is a lecturer in IET and has been involved in the evaluation of open online courses since 2009. His research interests include open online learning spaces, learning design, the role and use of digital achievements and badges in teaching, and assessment. 

Oxford Brookes University:

Professor Rhona Sharpe is Head of the Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development at Oxford Brookes University and Visiting Professor at Edge Hill University. She has led a number of research projects for Jisc and Higher Education Academy focussing on understanding learners’ experiences of technology. The culmination of these projects was the creation of ELESIG; a special interest group which aims to build capacity in the sector for undertaking and using learner experience research. Rhona has led a number of institution wide change projects including embedding graduate attributes and is co-leading the Learning Analytics project with Ian Scott.

Dr Ian Scott is the Associate Dean Student Experience in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at Oxford Brookes University. Ian has particular interest in learning outside the classroom and has undertaken studies previously into learning gain in the context of the recognition experiential learning. He has expertise in quantitative analysis and mixed-method approaches.

University of Surrey:

Professor Ian Kinchin is Head of the Department of Higher Education at University of Surrey. Before joining the department in September 2012, he was at King's Learning Institute where he was involved in the professional development of academic staff, whilst undertaking research into university pedagogy. His current research interests are focused on the development of the concept of the ‘expert student’ through the application of concept mapping, as part of an authentic pedagogy for Higher Education. 

Professor Steven Warburton is the Head of Department of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) at the University of Surrey. He is also a Fellow of the Centre for Distance Education at the University of London and an Associate Research Fellow at King’s Learning Institute, King’s College London. He leads a team dedicated to deploying technologies to enhance the learning and teaching experience across the institution. 

Dr Simon Lygo-Baker, is Senior Lecturer in Higher Education at the University of Surrey. He has substantial experience of researching, developing and supporting learning and teaching at institutional level. He has significant experience of undertaking collaborative research across a variety of disciplines into innovative teaching approaches to enhance learning. 

Research & Innovation