on [rage against] learning gain

> Data-driven educational consumption…<

Efficacy is a deceptively simple but incredibly powerful idea – that every product we sell should be measured and judged by the learning outcomes it helps to achieve. Every decision, every process, every investment we now make within Pearson is driven by an ‘efficacy framework’ that requires us to be able to answer four key questions:

  • What learning outcome do you aim to achieve?
  • What evidence – what data – will you collect to measure progress?
  • Do you have a clear plan that gives us confidence you can implement?
  • Data-driven, joint ventures rooted in leverage …

And, as we’ll always be working in partnership with other stakeholders, do we, collectively, have the capacity to deliver the desired outcome? If we can’t clearly see how a new product or service will drive up learning outcomes, we won’t invest in it.

> The data-driven rule of money…<

This is what is driving us to remake Pearson as a company set up to tackle one of the most important global socioeconomic issues of our time – how to make better education more accessible and affordable for far more people around the world. Or, to put it another way, how to get a far better return on the five trillion dollars, and more, the world spends each year on education? And it is this shift from inputs to outcomes that will, I think, more than anything else, drive change in global education over the next ten years.

John Fallon. 2014. Pearson’s Five Trillion Dollar Question.


> Open data as disciplinary tool…<

This is a very useful pointer for us as we review how we might extend the Key Information Set data in the future. Asking institutions to provide a breakdown of the average number of discussion classes for each course – broken down as Robbins suggests into tutorials, small seminars and large seminars – would allow students and parents to judge courses by the sort of teaching they value… One option would be for the Key Information Set data to mirror what was available to Robbins fifty years ago, with a requirement for institutions to specify how many essays or how much work students can expect to have marked on each course – and whether feedback will be written or discussed… Without radical changes to how universities were financed however it was going to be difficult to change their behaviour. Now there is an opportunity to use our funding changes to push a real cultural change back towards teaching.

David Willetts. 2013. Robbins Revisited.


> Open data will not save your educational future…<

we see a clear potential to unlock significant economic value by applying advanced analytics to both open and proprietary knowledge.

James Manyika et al.. 2013. Open data: Unlocking innovation and performance with liquid information.


>Open data and learning gain will unlock your value for their accumulation…<

As part of our commitment to supporting excellence and innovation in teaching and learning, as outlined in the HEFCE Business Plan, we are working with the sector to develop better ways of capturing excellent educational outcomes, including new approaches to measuring students’ learning. Developing our understanding of student learning is integral to ongoing debates about the quality and impact of higher education, and how we evidence the value of investment in it.

Learning gain has been defined and conceptualised in a number of ways. For our purposes, we define learning gain as the ‘distance travelled’: the improvement in knowledge, skills, work-readiness and personal development demonstrated by students at two points in time. There has been increasing interest, both nationally and internationally, in this concept in higher education, influenced by a number of key publications and programmes of work.

Our work on learning gain is part of a broader programme of work that is intended to improve students’ educational outcomes, and to provide insight to improve teaching practice and enhance capability (at an institutional strategic, department and individual academic level) across the sector. The development of a better range of indicators of the outcomes of higher education also has the potential to enhance student decision-making and to demonstrate more clearly, to Government and to students, the value of their investments in higher education.

HEFCE. 2015. Invitation to submit expressions of interest in piloting and evaluating measures of learning gain.


Increased fees and pressures on public funding mean we have to:

demonstrate the quality of higher education provision

evidence the positive impact of HE

evidence the value for money of investment in HE.

Madeleine Atkins. 2015. Measuring what matters: Learning gain in higher education.


> Who benefits from learning gain?<

For a five-year contract, Pearson was paid $32 million to produce standardized tests for New York. Its contract in Texas was worth $500 million. Pearson also owns Connections Academy, a company that runs for-profit, virtual charter schools. It also owns the GED program, although competitors have been creating alternatives in order to combat Pearson’s expensive tests. By and large, the massive corporation has far-reaching control over the education industry.

One of the best ways a standardized testing corporation can make more money is by coming up with new standards, which is why it’s not surprising that Pearson has played a role in crafting the new Common Core State Standards, a new set of standards set to be implemented in most states this coming school year. Advocates argue these new standards will increase but not improve testing —which will now be done on computers many schools don’t even have.

Peter Cohen, CEO of Pearson’s K-12 division, said: “It’s a really big deal. The Common Core standards are affecting literally every part of the business we’re involved in.”

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank, estimates implementing the new standards will cost the nation between $1 billion and $8 billion. Nearly all the profits will go to book publishers and test creators like Pearson and CTB/McGraw-Hill.

As corporations have found they can profit from turning students into unimaginative machines, they are newly discovering they can profit from standardizing teachers as well. Pearson’s new edTPA standardized assessments will determine teacher certification. Seven states have already adopted edTPA, with New York set to implement the program in May 2014.

Alyssa Figueroa. 2013. 8 Things You Should Know About Corporations Like Pearson that Make Huge Profits from Standardized Tests.


I’ve been following policy developments in English HE aimed at modifying academic behaviour over the past few weeks : specifically (though not exclusively) a HEFCE seminar on “Learning Gain” and the ongoing deliberation around the REF and HEFCE’s (shortly to be released) allocation of QR funding that will be linked to it.

The latent conspiracy theorist in me insists that I mention that both “Learning Gain” and the “Impact” component of the REF are being designed and delivered by Rand Europe. And Rand, in a triumph of private sector management excellence, are basically doing the same job twice. Though in disparate fields, both initiatives are an attempt to do the following:

  • to measure an attribute of education or research that was previously thought immeasurable.
  • to use this scheme of measurement nationally, across multiple institutions in multiple contexts
  • to make an assessment of the activity that allows significant gain to be made against these measurement schemes.
  • To reward and fund these areas of “excellence”, to encourage others

This faux-scientific nonsense has replaced the kind of small targeted investment in the community that has been proven to actually work. The kind of thing that other HE sectors around the world have learned from the UK and are currently implementing whilst we import failed approaches from elsewhere.

David Kernohan. 2015. Shame, pain, disdain and learning gain.


> Who is co-opted into the disciplining of student labour through learning gain and learning analytics?<

Capturing and analyzing data has changed how decisions are made and resources are allocated in businesses, journalism, government, and military and intelligence fields. Through better use of data, leaders are able to plan and enact strategies with greater clarity and confidence. Data drives increased organizational efficiency and a competitive advantage. Simply, analytics provide new insight and actionable intelligence.

In education, the use of data and analytics to improve learning is referred to as learning analytics. Analytics have not yet made the impact on education that they have made in other fields. That’s starting to change. Software companies, researchers, educators, and university leaders recognize the value of data in improving not only teaching and learning, but the entire education sector. In particular, learning analytics enables universities, schools, and corporate training departments to improve the quality of learning and overall competitiveness. Research communities such as the International Educational Data Mining Society (IEDMS) and the Society for Learning Analytics Research (SoLAR) are developing promising models for improving learner success through predictive analytics, machine learning, recommender systems (content and social), network analysis, tracking the development of concepts through social systems, discourse analysis, and intervention and support strategies. The era of data and analytics in learning is just beginning.

edX. 2014. Data, Analytics and Learning.


> Whose futures are subsumed in this rush to measure?<

Occupy LSE, in its founding statement, made clear that the ethos of the neoliberal university is where the institution ‘sells-itself’ to potential clients (i.e. students) seeking ‘value-adding’ work processes (i.e. education) administered by profit-making service providers (i.e. universities) and employed workers (i.e. lecturers) to work on individual ‘human capital’ so as to improve ‘earning potential’ in the world of work. It was clear in the occupation’s outreach that the marketisation of higher education and the imposition of fees has changed the culture of students and institutions, creating entrenched interests and cultural perceptions which have become ‘sticky’. Many students that Occupy LSE canvassed were very critical or unamused at the occupation – some complaining that we were ‘ruining the image’ of the institution they had paid so much to attend and whose logo added so much value to their CV. When universities charge so much for one to attend, it produces, by the very nature of the monetary investment and debt involved, a cultural mentality where education acts as a service which must have a clear dividend to be profitable (usually a well-paying job)….

Yet at the same time as treating the university as a business, students as consumers, lecturers as providers of ‘value-adding’ services, and degrees serving as instruments for increasing ‘earning potential’, the class of managers also acknowledges the deep spiritual gap left by this process of commodification. The university truly becomes a factory, where the institution, and the individual subjects it produces, measures the price of everything, but the value of nothing.

Matt Myers. 2015. Report from the LSE occupation.


>What are the labour relations implications of this new front in the rule of money?<

government and universities are actively supporting HR and professional development projects that anticipate long-term casualisation of university teaching, and focus on better handling of this risk. This reflects the adjustment of TEQSA’s calculations away from hinting that casualisation could be “excessive”, towards an expectation that majority casualisation of university teaching can be properly managed and performed with robust procedures and a positive attitude.

Kate Bowles. 2015. The New Normal.


In return for accepting an attack on their working conditions, Warwick’s precariat are being offered the chance to invest in their human capital. They can access resources to help their Continuing Personal Development (CPD), and expand their CV in the process.

In short, the hope of one day possible escaping precarity is being leveraged as a way of binding staff to the very structures which make them precarious.

The University of Warwick is evidence of a growing trend amongst UK universities. The social democratic university ideal of institutions where everyone shares common goals, common commitment and participated in collective processes of education as guided by democratic structures is very, very dead.

Instead, democracy has been systematically killed off, and there is an increasingly confrontational and repressive approach to dissent. The kettling of students in 2010 and Birmingham University’s vindictive campaign of repression against dissenting students was only the first indication of this sea change. The mediation and negotiation of different interests has been abandoned, and any attempt to force concessions from managerial overlords has led to prolonged antagonism.

We cannot just imagine our way out of this situation. Any progress will rely on making collective interventions in the relations and forces which structure the university.

We are increasingly seeing a polarisation in university life: it’s the yobs versus the managers.

John Murray. 2015. 6 Things Warwick University’s New Temp Agency Tells Us About Academic Precarity.


In a service-dominated economy that cares very little about values, facts, relationships, joy, satisfaction, wellbeing we are nevertheless supposed to be or perform happiness, relationships and values (of the company at least). When transferable skills come to dominate education and employment above all others, we can be sure that what is really being taught is the ability to be transferable. An education that focused instead on values, deep knowledge and intransigence would be an education for a different world.

Nina Power. 2015. The ‘transferable skills’ paradigm is cover for the creation of transferable people


the newest wave of automation is leaving some jobs to humans. Work involving creativity, problem-solving, and social intelligence are all off-limits to automation for the time being. But these are mostly high-skilled, high-waged jobs, and they are often jobs that are difficult not only for machines, but also for humans.

In the earliest waves of automation (for example the mechanisation of craft work), the biggest section of the labour market under threat was relatively high-skilled workers who posed a threat to capitalists and management. Low-skilled jobs were both cheap and relatively easy to discipline, and offered numerous outlets for displaced workers. Yet today, it is largely low-skilled, low-waged jobs (both manual and cognitive) which are under threat – a situation which makes this wave of automation significantly different from previous ones.

Nick Srnicek. 2015. 4 Reasons Why Technological Unemployment Might Really Be Different This Time.


> Rage against the rule of learning gain: the leverage, co-opted rule of money.<

And so we rage against the rule of money. Not against money itself, necessarily, because in the present society we need money to live. We rage rather against the rule of money, against a society in which money dominates. Money is a great bulldozer tearing up the world. It is an insidious force penetrating ever more aspects of our lives. Money holds society together, but it does so in a way that tears it apart.

At one stage it seemed we had pushed the rule of money back, at least in areas like health and education. It was never really so, and for a long time we have seen the progressive re-imposition of the rule of money as the prime criterion for every decision. Now money has emerged in all its arrogance. That is what makes us so angry – the government has proclaimed openly “Money is king, bow low to the king!”

Rage, then, rage against the rule of money! As long as money rules, injustice and violence prevail – money is the breach between the starving and the food, the gap between the homeless and the houses. As long as money rules we are trapped in a dynamic that nobody controls and that is visibly destroying the possibility of human existence.

Money seems all powerful, yet it is not. It is merely a form of social cohesion, and depends on our compliance. Say no, then. Do something else, do things in a different way. Refuse and create.

John Holloway. 2011. Today’s march is a challenge to the rule of money.


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