The Visible Learning approach

Professional Development

The Visible Learning approach

More than 5,600 tutors are working across Victorian schools

Corwin explores three key themes from visible learning research, and how these principles can help teachers to maximise student learning.

Extensive research by education academic Professor John Hattie has over time revealed what works best in maximising student learning. Hattie’s Visible Learning research (2009, 2012) serves as a compelling narrative for educators to question what we choose to spend our time, energy and resources on. Several key themes can be gleaned from the research that invite educators to think about their impact, and more importantly to understand and act on their impact.

Visible Learning outlines that how we think about our role as educators powerfully impacts on the pedagogy we implement. How can we reimagine our learning environments to ensure they are founded on building some of the core themes of Visible Learning research? To achieve this, educators should explore key interconnected themes and related questions that have emerged from the research. These can serve as an impetus for educators to inquire into their current practice, ensuring their approach is deliberate and responsive and seeks to maximise success.

See learning through the eyes of students

In what ways can we truly imagine learning from the perspective of our students and importantly act on this? Seeking feedback from students about how effectively they are learning is a powerful invitation to understand the impact of teaching. Using students’ assessments as evidence, to know who has been taught well and where the gaps are, enables educators to understand how to assist students to make progress and maximise success.

Being attuned to the learning lives of students, listening to their struggles, misconceptions and successes can be facilitated through frequent classroom discussions that are focused on learning. Visible Learning identifies the potential of classroom discussions to greatly impact on students’ collaborative reasoning. Deliberately planning for and structuring frequent learning conversations offer powerful learning opportunities for teachers to see learning through students’ eyes, and develop their next teaching approaches. It also reinforces to students that at the heart of learning is the need to feel safe in expressing the challenges they encounter and in the process serves to normalise errors as being central to learning.

Ask yourself: 

How often do you engage in sustained dialogue with your students that is deeply focused on their learning? How safe do your students feel in expressing their struggles? What evidence do you have?

Position students as being their own teachers

Teach students about the research. Share with your students what has the greatest impact on learning – in essence providing the ‘why’ for all you do together. Royce Sadler (2007) believes we need to “let students in on the secrets of learning”. The implications are that students know what they are learning and how to be successful as too often they are unsure and consider learning in terms of completing tasks, rather than engaging in thinking processes.

The role of teacher clarity has been identified in Visible Learning research as greatly impacting on student learning. We need to ensure learning intentions and success criteria are explicit to students at all times, yet importantly expect that students are able to use and articulate these. At the heart of students being their own teachers is enabling them to understand their next steps in their learning and to know what to do when they don’t know what to do.

Ask yourself: Do we consistently demonstrate high expectations for students to articulate their learning and next steps? What actions, strategies and approaches do we use to enable students to own their learning? Do we use the learning intentions and success criteria as a basis for feedback?

Positioning equity at the core

The recognition of how language plays a powerful role in legitimising unquestioned beliefs invites educators to consider how students define their role as learners. How often do we have explicit discussions with students about what being a good learner means? How does this relate to the notion of equity? Students learn quickly about what they consider being ‘smart’ means and who they define as being a good learner, and it is often associated with characteristics aligned with being fast, neat and right. We need to constantly challenge these beliefs by deconstructing what being smart means – even banishing the word and reinforcing a language of learning that honours the role of effort and persistence.
How many students are excluded or opt out of schooling when we privilege smart as being something you either are or are not? Ritchhart (2007) advocates for approaches that position students as being able to grow their intelligence, to shift beliefs from being smart to acting smart. He describes the role of language as a powerful cultural force in shaping how students perceive themselves as learners.

How can we become more attuned to the language we use daily that has the potential to invite or exclude specific students? When we put equity at the core we recognise the power of having high expectations for all students regardless of their achievement levels and this is reflected in the language we use. Johnston (2004) believes that language creates realities, invites identities and works to position people in relation to each other. Saying “you are so smart” is very different from saying, “you are so thoughtful” as they invite different views of who you are as a person. When we are conscious of how we can use the language of learning to reinforce learning as something that is accessible by all, not a chosen few we honour the contributions of all our students.

Hattie (2009) states that educators need to believe that their role is that of a change agent – that all students can learn and progress. He believes achievement for all is changeable, rather than fixed, and that demonstrating to all students that they care about their learning is both powerful and effective. When we ask deeper questions of all students, expect all to engage and provide wait time, we position them as active agents in their learning. It is intentional and deliberate and not left to chance. Visible Learning research can be described as a compelling narrative that invites educators to be evaluators of their impact. Central to this notion is the need to constantly question, re-imagine and implement approaches in order to see learning through students’ eyes, position students as their own teachers, and recognise the power of language in our daily interactions in the learning lives of students that powerfully underpin their identity and agency. The three suggested key themes and questions invites educators to reimagine how their approaches impact student learning and design deliberate interventions to strengthen their practice.

Ask yourself: 

How often do we question and explicitly teach students about what being a good learner means in order to challenge their perceptions and build understandings? How could we group students flexibly to maximise their interactions with peers? How do we equally privilege student progress as opposed to just achievement through our words and actions?


Hattie, J. (2009) Visible Learning A Synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses related to achievement. New York: Routledge.

Hattie, J. (2012) Visible Learning for Teachers Maximising impact on Learning. New York: Routledge.

Johnston, P.H. (2004) Choice Words: How our language affects children’s learning. Maine: Stenhouse.

Ritchhart, R. (2002) Intellectual Character. California: Josey Bass.

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