Visible Learning - evidence-based teaching breaks free of theory


One of the most controversial figures in education is coming to the UK for a series of conferences hosted by Osiris Educational.

John Hattie, one of the world’s most talked-about education academics, has a reputation for ruffling feathers. The outspoken professor from New Zealand, who now finds his home at the University of Melbourne, is responsible for one of the largest, most influential and controversial research works in education.

Governments, districts, schools and individual teachers have found inspiration and cause for concern in the lessons of Visible Learning, Hattie’s seminal 2008 book, and the follow-on Visible Learning for Teachers.

Visible Learning, is the largest ever collection of evidence-based research into what makes a difference to learning in schools.

The work, the result of 15 years’ research, looking at over 50,000 studies and the learning of a quarter of a billion students, has been described by some as “teaching’s holy grail.” The result is an itemised reference of effect sizes, directly comparing and contrasting the input factors that affect, or fail to, a child’s achievement.

One of the most surprising findings was that many of the educational topics that dominate debates and headlines, such as class sizes, homework and choice of school, have little effect.

As with any big idea, Visible Learning has its detractors. Some of his recommendations ring true with prevailing trends – holding back children based on their ability has been unpopular as long as the cane - but some, like the non-effect of class size, strike an unwelcome chord with many teachers’ outlook. Critics find fault in Hattie’s methods, dispute his conclusions and rightly point out that you don’t fix schools by ticking off a shopping list of effect sizes.

Bringing Visible Learning out of the university and into schools is a challenge that few, until now have chosen to take on. Professor Hattie responds to the critics with total unironic agreement: indeed, taking the “top ten” approach and expecting it to work is a non-starter. The effect sizes found in the 800 meta-analyses that make up Visible Learning are aggregates, from diverse school and individual situations. When we try to apply the general to the specific, problems always arise.
In fact, it requires a comprehensive understanding of and coherent training in the approach from the ground up to see where the gains are to be made in your school, with your students. That is the job of the Visible Learningplus team, the growing group of teachers and trainers now taking a systematic approach to embedding Visible Learning around the world.

Leading the training is Deb Masters, Professor Hattie’s long-time colleague, who regularly delivers keynotes alongside him. Through Osiris Educational, Deb is about to train the first 8 Visible Learningplus trainers for the UK, meaning that very soon schools across the country will have access to the personalised, coherent, evidence-based approach that Visible Learning demands.

By developing a network of skilled and knowledgeable Visible Learningplus consultants in this country, supporters of the evidence-led approach to teaching have an opportunity to get beyond that effect size shopping list on far too many departmental plans, and make the changes that work for individual schools and pupils.

Professional Development Today