The arrival of Visible Learning

Like many people I'm curious about the arrival of evidence based teaching? I suppose the question can be split up into several sub-questions:

When did evidence-based education start:

·         in the World?

·         in the UK?

·         for me?

Many people will assume that it all started with John Hattie (New Zealand). Indeed Hattie has been involved in education as a researcher for a number of years (CV). From his extensive list of published works, this is the first that has a reference to his Magnum Opus, published 30 years later in 2009.

Hattie, J.A. (1979, October). Meta-analysis: The philosophy and methodology. Invited paper to Measurement and evaluation seminar. University of Queensland, Brisbane.

 At this time Hattie was 8 years into his teaching career. He was a Lecturer at The University of New England.

This was then followed 6 years later with:

Hattie, J.A. & Walberg, H.J. (1985, November). Interpreting effect sizes in meta-analyses. Paper Presented at the AARE Conference, ‘Educational research: Then and now’, AARE, Hobart.

At this point, Hattie is an Associate Professor at the University of New England.

But upon whose foundations did Hattie build his work? Are we looking at a new area of research?

 It is known that Hattie was influenced by the earlier work of the Dutch academic Bert Creemers (CV). In 1974, Creemers wanted to show that the differences in the behaviour of teachers who used the same textbook resulted in different student outcomes, taking into consideration the initial differences between students. But Creemers was looking for correlation. His work was a work of confirmation that I would liken to a litmus test for acids or alkalis. It was either one thing or another; there was a correlation or there wasn’t.

Robert Marzano (US) is often linked to the evidence-based education tag. His work uses effect sizes but whilst Hattie looks at outside classroom influences on student outcomes, Marzano is noted for looking at within classroom practice only. His main work is from 1998.

We also have Geoff Petty in the UK. He has authored books (from 2006) regarding Evidence based Teaching which build on the work of Hattie and Marzano. Therefore it is classroom based only.

What is noteworthy is the introduction of effect sizes into the methodology. This is based on work by J. Cohen in 1969.

So the timeline goes:


What the above people all have in common is the desire to de-mystify the impact that various factors have on student achievement. Creemers looked at the teacher, Hattie looked at everything, Marzano and Petty looked inside the classroom.

From my point of view, if I can find out how to be more effective as a teacher then I am surely duty-bound to pursue that goal. There is no doubt that my development as a teacher would have occurred naturally as I taught more and more pupils. After nearly 10,000 lessons you know what your default-setting is as a teacher. Without looking at improving my teaching practice I would probably have developed a defensive teaching strategy as my default setting. I don’t know what that would have looked like but I could speculate:

1.       I would have developed classroom routines that “worked” (i.e. they would have got ME to the end of the lesson!)

2.       I would have only one dimension to my teaching (i.e. I would have a survival instinct that was "my way or the highway!".)

3.       I would be very reluctant to change after hours of reinforcing my survival routines.

With regards to adjusting your teaching methods, there is a problem for some people. It is called the “Not invented here” disposition. This causes a serious time-delay between publication of research and improved practice. I was informed that it can take up to 40 years for a pedagogy to become fully integrated into education.

Consider Philosophy for Children (P4C) – developed circa 1972 by Prof. Matthew Lipman.

Evidence based education – developed circa 1974

Innovations come and go in education. As yet I don’t understand how such internal flux has been allowed to develop. Teachers blame governments for interfering in education too frequently, but I have seen evidence of choppy waters being instigated by the teachers themselves. Not all teachers, but the influential teachers. Maybe they are Head teachers, maybe they are Heads of departments or faculties. There are times when change causes great improvements for all (students, teachers, etc.) And there are times when change causes improvement for some (normally the person instigating the change.)

Change itself should be warmly welcomed in education. One of the key “Mind frames” of a teacher according to Hattie is to be a ‘Change Agent’. But this MUST involve changing those things that make the biggest difference to our pupils’ achievements.

This is where Visible Learning starts from. Stop inventing new ways to do things and start to evaluate the many methodologies that we currently have at our disposal. We live in exponential times. Let’s not allow this to apply to the number of innovations that are on offer to us as teachers.

This is the second in a series of six blogs about Visible Learning.
Blog 1 - The beginning of Visible Learning