Learning how to learn and assessment for learning: a theoretical inquiry

Black, Paul; McCormick, Robert; James, Mary and Pedder, David (2006). Learning how to learn and assessment for learning: a theoretical inquiry. Research Papers in Education, 21(2) pp. 119–132.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/02671520600615612


This paper stems from the ESRC TLRP Learning How to Learn—in Classrooms, Schools and Networks Project, and explores how Assessment for Learning (AfL) relates, conceptually, to learning how to learn (LHTL). The term LHTL was intended to draw attention to a primary focus on learning practices, and we have related the processes of AfL to LHTL. A third and more common term 'learning to learn' (L2L) has recently come to the fore in the teaching and learning practices of schools. This paper explores the relationships between all three, in three main sections. First, the meaning of the concept LHTL is explored. This is approached initially using the analysis of Dearden, followed by an exploration of the links with other research in the literature on learning. This exploration examines the construct L2L and argues against its implication that there is a distinct capacity with generality of application across all forms of learning. The second section considers the ways in which teachers and schools might give more priority to pupils' capacity to LHTL, drawing on some research projects that demonstrate improved pupil outcomes, and hence support the rationale for the emphasis on learning practices. The third section examines the problem of assessing LHTL. An attempt to construct an instrument to assess LHTL did not succeed, but did serve to expose both the practical and the theoretical problems in characterizing pupils as having 'learned how to learn'. The overall conclusion is that emphasis should be placed on practices that have potential to promote autonomy in learning, a common theme in the literature at all levels, and one reflected in our empirical work on teachers' attitudes and practices.

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