Jan HF Meyer

  • Developing students’ metalearning capacity: a grounded assessment framework

    Jan HF Meyer, University of Durham, University of South Australia
    Martin Shanahan, University of South Australia
    Lin Norton, Liverpool Hope University College
    David Walters, Liverpool Hope University College

    Research paper

    Themes: skills development and lifelong learning, supporting learners

    In a classic paper published twenty years ago John Biggs introduced the concept of metalearning into the educational research literature (Biggs, 1985). This powerful and elegant concept is defined in terms of two properties; awareness of, and control over, self as learner in context. Developing students’ metalearning capacity is an empowering process of developing skill in learning in the sense used by Svennson (1984) as referring to the ‘quality of an interaction’; in this case a deep level, holistic, and self-regulated skill which is conceptually quite different from those that are traditionally referred to as ‘learning or study skills’. Developing a framework to assess the development of such skill is clearly fundamental to improving student learning and this is the focus of the present paper within the theme of the ISL Conference.

    In order for students to develop or acquire metalearning capacity it is firstly necessary for them to be made aware of themselves as learners in context; a supportive mechanism has to be found that enables them to externalise for their own scrutiny, and in a conceptually meaningful and supportive manner, those explanatory observables - internal to themselves, and perhaps unconsciously so - that are functionally related to achieving learning outcomes. This process of externalisation, so easily stated, is deceptively difficult to operationalise on a large scale and in a short time, but recent work (Meyer & Norton, 2004) has drawn attention to a variety ways by which it can be accomplished.

    The present paper is set in terms of two large-scale parallel attempts in 2005 to develop metalearning capacity in first-year students within the discipline of economics at the University of South Australia (n=c800), and in a multidisciplinary context at Liverpool Hope University College (n=c1000). Both these studies use a common web based portal specifically designed to provide individual students with a self-reported learning profile as the first stage of developing their metalearning capacity. Both studies also share some complementary mechanisms to help students develop this awareness further and take control over their learning and its development.

    The aim of the present paper is to explore the conceptual dimensionality of developing and acquiring metalearning capacity based on participating students’ reported experiences.

    The methodology employed in the present study builds on earlier work by Norton and colleagues (Norton, Morgan & Thomas, 1995; Norton 2001, 2002, Williamson & Norton, 2002) in which a measure has been developed to gauge the degree to which an unprompted student is able to spontaneously offer in their own words a proxy of either metalearning, or the acquisition of it, as part of being a ‘good learner’. These data, together with students’ reflective essays on their own interpretation of their learning profiles, will be analysed from a grounded perspective in order to develop a framework of assessment against within which the development of individual students’ metalearning capacity can be located.


    • Biggs, J (1985). The role of metalearning in study processes. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 55, 185-212.
    • Meyer, JHF and Norton, L (2004). Metalearning in higher education. Innovations in Education and Teaching International. (Introduction to the special issue) 41 (4) 387-390.
    • Norton, LS (2001) The Ideal *** Inventory. A useful tool for pedagogical research in higher education. Higher Education Academy Resources. Available:http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/resources.asp?process=full_record&section=generic&id=495(accessed 7 December 2004)
    • Norton, LS (2002) Pedagogical Action Research: a workshop using the Ideal ***Inventory. Workshop presented at Psychology Learning and Teaching Conference (PLAT 2002), University of York, 18-20 March 2002
    • Norton, LS, Morgan, K and Thomas, S (1995). The Ideal Self Inventory: A new measure of self esteem. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 8 (4), 305-310.
    • Svensson, L (1984). Skill in learning. In Marton, et al (Eds.), The experience of learning. Scottish Academic Press, Edinburgh, pp. 56-70.
    • Williamson, T and Norton, LS (2002) An Ideal workshop, 3rd annual conference of the Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (ILTHE), Heriot- Watt University, Edinburgh, 26-28 June 2002