Reviewing Existing Methods to Measure Learning Gain in Higher Education

Books and graduation cap


Learning gain, by its most basic definition, is what is learned between two or more points in time. In higher education, learning gain is often understood as the ‘distance travelled’ in a student’s performance from the beginning of their studies to the end. Methods used to capture such gains can be discipline-specific or more generic, testing both hard and soft skills.

Often, the concept of learning gain is interchangeable with the term value-added. In a wider context, it can also be used to indicate the quality and impact of higher education institutes. Already widely discussed in the USA, learning gain is relatively new to England’s higher education landscape and has thus been subject to much attention and debate.


RAND Europe was commissioned by HEFCE, HEA and BIS to review existing methods for capturing learning gain in higher education. More specifically, we will analyse the form and rationale behind existing measures of learning gain, including the merits and drawbacks to these approaches.

The research also aims to examine the suitability and applicability of these methods to a variety of disciplines, as well as to the higher education sector in England. Furthermore, the research will address how existing practice and literature can inform us of relevant considerations in designing and developing pilot activities.

To address these points, the research team will rely on a number of qualitative methods such as a literature review, key informant interviews, surveys and workshops.

Project Team

Cecile McGrath
Catriona Manville
Benoit Guerin
Emma Harte
Michael Frearson