New discoveries often happen by chance. When Guy Claxton and I started a conversation about the lack of a suitable assessment tool that could identify an individual’s generic strengths and weaknesses as a learner, we could not have known that from this small beginning, a substantial international enterprise would develop. But one thing so often leads to another and it wasn’t long before we were designing our own inventory that we hoped would fill this gap in the market.

With the help of expert colleagues and external funders, we were able to trial successive versions of the Evaluating Lifelong Learning Inventory – an inventory that soon became known simply as ELLI.  Pilot testing showed that the tool was both valid and reliable and encouraged us to commit to much larger field trials that through factor analysis, identified the seven dimensions of learning that form the core of the ELLI tool.

It was very exciting.  We realised that we had identified a way of helping learners of all kinds to understand  their strengths and weaknesses.  We soon found too, that our dimensions could provide teachers with a novel language to talk about learning with their students.

The ideas behind the dimensions spread rapidly because they had an immediate appeal.  In place of static notions of ‘ability’ or  simplistic assumptions about effort, teachers and trainers now had a really constructive way of helping people work on the characteristics that were holding them back in a particular learning context.

Not surprisingly, it wasn’t long before ELLI was in demand in many different contexts and in a range of countries,  From school children to ex-offenders, Aboriginal adult learners to corporate employees, ELLI was demonstrating that it could help all kinds of people approach their learning in a personal and dynamic way – a way that put them in the driving seat.

Today, ELLI is associated with a range of development tools that the various organisations that are using it have developed to help individuals address their learning needs.  For when it comes to learning, there are no magic bullets.  There is no substitute for hard work and determination.  But what we now also have is  a language that makes learning much more ‘smart’; that puts the learner in the driving seat; that shows that the power to learn is itself learnable.