The Visible Learning Revolution

18 November, 2018

Since his groundbreaking Visible Learning erupted onto the educational scene Professor John Hattie has deeply divided educational opinion!

His critics snipe away at the edges. Most haven’t bothered to understand the breadth, depth and profound processes he elicits.

The sceptics keep cautious distance. After all, to fully engage risks overturning deeply held beliefs, that they are right and he is wrong. (Despite the fact that binary rarely exists in education).

Two years on we have almost forgotten how different it is now… from achievement to progress meant a shift to next steps and individual pathways” VL school leader

But in classrooms across the world change is in the air. And on a scale few had seen coming. Whilst the focus for far too long has been on what is and how it is taught, his Visible Learning revolution has changed the narrative.

The holy grail of education

Some thought his list of high probability interventions was a check for what they were already doing or should be doing. The TES even labelled it the ‘holy grail of education.’ But they all missed the point.

Schools did not need more change. They had decades of that as subsequent governments shuffled structures, curriculum, examinations, accountability, support, autonomy and governance and to very little effect. In their wake teachers and school leaders are left confused and compliant. Stressed and unsure. Harassed and heading for the exit.

What Hattie has done is make learning Visible. To weave the entirety of the system into a golden thread with learning at the centre. Not a vague promise. Not a worthy but ill-defined notion. But one with high specificity. One that can be measured.

From the narrow confines of attainment (and its potential reinforcement of social disadvantage) he has moved to achievement then progress. Onwards to next steps in learning and onwards further to a highly individual journey for each learner.

Progression is not linear in Hattie’s world…more like a GPS, where all routes are possible”

Progression is not linear in Hattie’s world. It is more like a GPS system where all routes are possible. A block on the M6 does not need to result in a 15 mile tailback at Birmingham. empowered learners who are able to change strategy, drop a gear, learn quickly, know what to do when they don’t know what to do.

The old world of mark, plan, do seems almost redundant. At best a slow response to a fast changing world. It’s not knowledge or skills. It is knowledge, belief, strategies, agency and skills. And at speed.

The biggest challenge is implementation. So many initiatives come and go. Their legacy barley scratches the surface. By working with specialist teams of expertise around the world Hattie has raised the bar. From cottage industry and vague forms to an evidenced-based process, almost guaranteed to succeed. Putting effect sizes into action where it matters most… in the classroom.

For those brave enough to take on the challenge of this new world the developments are remarkable. Two years on most struggle to remember what it was like before the revolution came to town. Did they really treat pupils as receptacles of their knowledge and passive compilers in their behaviour management systems? Now all they talk about is learning.

                  “One size fits one

One school’s epiphany was to pass raw scores directly to the teachers. No interpretation by senior leaders. The teachers changed them to “effect sizes”, held brave discussions and iterated around Learning impact. Next stage was directly to the learners who owned the data like it was their own. It was, and they knew it, their journey and they began that journey afresh.

And it’s taken a man of vision (aided by quite formidable other (he would say better) half) to cause this revolution. And it’s not stopping. Every new piece of research is pieced together. The data changes a little but the story stays the same. It ultimately doesn’t matter what the level of social disadvantage, age or subject specialism. learning is learning. Hattie acknowledges that the understanding of the science of learning is only just beginning. And as we adapt so learning changes the patterns he has watched. But technology so far has had little effect, not because it can’t but because it has not been used in the right way… yet. And for Hattie that remains an empirical question.

Visible Learning is a new way of thinking about education

In Queensland educational disadvantage has all but been wiped out. The Northern Territories, the perennial underdogs, now see the second fastest levels of progress in Australia.

In the U.K. We are still at green shoots time. But momentum is gaining in spite of the politicisation of the educational process. Maybe it’s time the ministers and the EEF came and had a look. Just because it wasn’t invented here doesn’t mean to say the revolution isn’t going to happen here and the fact the Visible Learning World Conference 2019 is being held in Edinburgh next March should give the perfect excuse for government to come and take a look.

Visible Learning is a new way of thinking about education. Just because learning is hard to see does not mean that it is not worth fighting for. Hattie doesn’t care how people teach, just about their impact. Impact may start in achievement and progress but has to be triangulated with dispositions and progression. Every journey is different in the world of Visible Learning, unique, one size fits one.

Hats off to Hattie. Thank goodness for men of courage and conviction.

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