Assessment and Learning – getting to know ELLI?

In preparation for a recent meeting of our School of Biological Sciences Pedagogic Research group, I’ve been reading a number of articles in the Assessment for Learning genre. My attention was particularly drawn to accounts of ELLI – the Evaluating Lifelong Learning Inventory – project.  ELLI has been developed by Ruth Deakin Crick and colleagues at the University of Bristol and is an instrument for the diagnosis and development of an individual’s learning power.  As Deakin Crick and colleagues point out in their 2004 paper (Assessment in Education 11:247-272), existing assessments tend to be focused on measuring either intelligence or educational achievement, whereas the measurement of a person’s learning power, that is their capacity for lifelong learning, may actually be the most valuable quality to assess.  “There is“, she notes in her 2007 paper (The Curriculum Journal 18:135-153), “an urgent need for our education system to foster flexible, creative, self-aware and dynamic learners who have the capacity to apply and adapt what is learned to their own lives, embedded in their local and global communities, and who can extend their learning and understanding into spheres of thought and action which demand intelligent behaviour in the real world” (p.137).

Having extensively piloted versions of the assessment instrument in a variety of Schools, the ELLI team have presently settled on a 72-item questionnaire that is used to probe students’ self-perception of their relative strengths and weaknesses in the seven core dimensions of learning power. These are: changing and learning; critical curiosity; meaning-making; dependence and fragility; creativity; relationships/interdependence; and strategic awareness.  Positive and negative manifestations of these dimensions are summarised as part of the slideshow below, along with an overview of the findings of ELLI so far.

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I must admit the ability to have a handle on the learning potential of our students is an attractive proposition; it might also be illuminating to take the test myself and see what it showed about my own strengths and weaknesses in this regard! There would definitely be value, even if it was just as a one-off diagnostic.  Clearly, however, the most merit comes from being able to combine the diagnostic with a programme of activities that develop and enhance the learning power of the students, in a targeted and individualised way, combined with a reappraisal of their learning power at a later stage. 

This is a big ask and one which, with the best will in the world, is going to be tricky to fulfil in the Higher Education sector.  All sorts of problems stand in the way – the large cohort sizes; the fact that an individual student is receiving input and instruction from a broad range of colleagues rather than one staff member for a significant time; the impact of the secondary sector, where persistent summative assessment has led students to be entirely goal-driven and only engage if there are marks up for grabs. 

The balance between skill development and acquisition of factual knowledge is a recurring tension in HE, but I’d love to be able to utilise an instrument such as ELLI in order to shift the balance more towards learner enhancement and less on information regurgitation.

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