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There is growing interest around the world in measuring how much students in higher education learn, and the contribution that disciplines, courses and particular educational activities make to that learning. Amongst other factors, such measures can be seen as important to the debates about the quality and impact of higher education, how we evidence the value of investment in it, and how we evidence students' skills acquisition for employers.

The question of how to measure the student learning gained in higher education has been much debated. The debate is healthy — any attempt to measure a process which is as multidimensional as learning can encourage a focus on what is effective — but it also risks distorting activity. There is an evident need to consider different approaches to the measurement of gains in learning and consider their impact on practice and on outcomes. Debate on the measurement of the learning students gain in higher education has been prominent internationally, but the concept has not been studied extensively in the English higher education context. This research explores the concept of learning gain, as well as current national and international practice, to investigate whether a measure of learning gain could be used in England.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Definitions of learning gain

  • Chapter Three

    How can learning gain be measured?

  • Chapter Four

    Overview of methods

  • Chapter Five

    Suggestions for next steps

  • Chapter Six


  • Appendix A

    Summary of methods reviewed

  • Appendix B

    Research method

  • Appendix C

    Evaluation framework

  • Appendix D


  • Appendix E

    List of acronyms

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was prepared for the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and was conducted by RAND Europe.

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