High impact learning strategies


Sometimes you come across research that you just can’t ignore.

While a lot of educational research can be context-dependent and difficult to generalise, just occasionally somebody pulls it all together.

In his seminal book on teaching and learning in higher education, John Biggs highlights a piece of research done by Hattie (2009) into ‘what works in higher education’. Check this out:

Hattie (2009) synthesised over 800 meta-analyses, involving 50,000+ studies and about 250+ million students, from early childhood through to adult education, as measured by ‘effect size’ (a statistical manipulation that gives the strength of a factor and that is commparable across all studies. (Biggs & Tang, 2011: 59)

Hattie’s enormous piece of research found that the activity that had by far the most impact on learning was when students self-report their grades, in other words when they assess themselves. Here are some of the other top activities that had the most impact:

activity effect size
student: self-report grades 1.44
teaching: providing formative evaluation to learners 0.90
teaching: teacher clarity 0.75
teaching: reciprocal teaching 0.74
teaching: feedback 0.73
teaching: spaced vs mass practice 0.71
teaching: metacognitive strategies 0.69
curricula: creativity programmes 0.65
teaching: self-questioning 0.64
teacher: professional development 0.62
teaching: problem solving teaching 0.61
teaching: not labelling students 0.61

And in another great piece of research, Kilgo, Sheets & Pascarella (2015) provided evidence of ‘high impact’ educational practices that were found to make a significant difference to student learning. They found that:

‘active and collaborative learning as well as undergraduate research had broad-reaching positive effects across multiple liberal larts learnning outcomes, such as critical thinking, need for cognition, and intercultural effectiveness’ (Kilgo at al., 2015: 509)

So if you’re looking for ways to have a significant impact on your students’ learning, you could do a lot worse that to incorporate some of the above strategies. I’m already redesigning all my lessons…


Biggs, J. annd Tang, C. (2011) Teaching for Quality Learning at University. McGraw-Hill.

Hattie, J. (2009) Visible Learning: A Synthesis of 800+ Meta-analyses on Achievement. London: Routledge

Kilgo, C., Sheets, J., and Pascarella, E. (2015) The link between high-impact practices and student learning: some longitudinal evidence. Higher Education. 69, 509-525

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