May 2014

Public examinations now have very high stakes for everyone involved in education. In lessons, a close focus on what is to be tested, and how, must be a key focus of the curriculum. Good schools have become adept at preparing their pupils for this annual marathon.

But how much do we really know about the qualities of even the most outstanding students? Universities increasingly deplore the fact that new undergraduates – even those with outstanding A-Level grades – have become accustomed to spoon-feeding; that they expect to be told what to do and are unaccustomed to thinking for themselves.  As a result, many universities have introduced study skills courses designed to help students acquire the skills they need to be independent learners.  As well as the obvious practical skills such as how to use the range of study resources available, such courses also aim to help students develop the dispositions that characterise independent learners such as resilience, creativity and being able to manage their personal learning needs.  Universities recognise that not only are these the skills that are needed to be a successful undergraduate; they are also key to future employment success.

The ever-increasing pressure on gaining examination success has been brought about by a combination of intensifying competition for places and the decisions of successive Governments to use examination results as a proxy for education standards.  One unfortunate side-effect of this trend has been a corresponding lack of emphasis on the more generic aspects of learning that will be needed in the work place and through life more generally.  This is why many schools are now actively using other means to help their pupils to become more expert learners.

One such intervention is the Effective Lifelong Learning Inventory (ELLI).  The research on which ELLI is based identified seven elements that are central to effective learning.  These dimensions include critical curiosity, resilience, creativity and working with others.  They are the combination of  ‘thinking, feeling and doing’ which underpins every learning setting. The individual profile that is produced from the ELLI inventory provides the basis for teachers to help their pupils understand their strengths and weaknesses and to work on improving them.

ELLI has now been used by tens of thousands of individuals in a variety of educational environments around the world.  It heralds the beginning of a revolutionary new approach to education at the heart of which is the recognition that individuals can be helped to become more effective and more motivated learners through appropriate interventions.  Not surprisingly, the value of this kind of approach is also now being recognised by employers who see the potential of ELLI for staff development.  Research has consistently demonstrated that the ELLI inventory can be the basis for helping people of all kinds, including individuals in particularly disadvantaged communities, to develop the key attributes for effective learning. That insights derived from ELLI provide the stimulus for them to become more confident and motivated to learn, to be more reflective and self-aware and more effective at working with others.  Not surprisingly, it has also been found that developing high levels of ‘learning power’ as measured by ELLI, is also associated with higher levels of attainment on more conventional tests and examinations.

Schools that have already adopted ELLI have done so because they recognise the importance of building the capacity of their pupils to be successful learners at all stages of their lives.  They see in it the beginnings of a new language of learning that does not compete with the focus on examination success but is a complement to it.  Instead of question-spotting or last-minute cramming for the exam, ELLI helps to build the confidence and motivation that is key to longer-term success.  So while ELLI may help to improve examination results, more important is that pupils will be much better equipped to fulfil their potential and to navigate successfully the next stage of their learning journey.