Helen Hewertson

  • What makes a really good learner? What do students believe?

    Helen Hewertson, University of Central Lancashire

    Research paper

    Themes: diversity and inclusivity, supporting learners

    Monday 7 September 2009, 15.45 - 16.45 in room 120

    Metalearning is possibly a key factor in students being effective and successful in their university studies (Lucas & Meyer, 2005; Meyer & Shanahan, 2004; Yorke 2004). Biggs (1985) defined metalearning as the process by which students monitor their learning process and allocate their mental resources accordingly. 
    This study adds to previous research by Meyer et al (2005) on developing students’ metalearning capacity. It compares the data gathered from the English university cohort of the original study using the Really Good Learner inventory, (devised by Norton 2001) with a new cohort of students also at the same English university

    Students perceptions of what qualities make a really good learner were measured using the inventory, and compared to the answers generated in the original study. Students conceptions were found to be different in the new cohort as they placed less emphasis on organisational ability and metalearning, and more on independent work and personal abilities. Since views had changed significantly, I interviewed a random sample of students at the English university on their perceptions of what makes a really good learner. During the interview after initial discussion about what makes a really good learner they were asked to fill in the really good learner inventory, and then explain their answers.  The interesting revelation was that as the interview progressed and the students really thought about their views on what makes a really good learner, the answers they had previously provided changed and evolved. This meant that values or qualities they placed most highly at the beginning of the interview were not necessarily the same ones at the end of the interview.

     The qualities that came out of this part of this study as being most highly prized were commitment and independent work, with organisational ability and communication classed as the least important. Whereas in the original study organisational ability was classed as one the most important qualities. Commitment was consistently valued as the most important quality throughout the studies, although not to the same degree. Metalearning actually came up more clearly in the interviews, than in just the really good learner inventory, with only one person not mentioning metalearning concepts, when students had time to think and develop their ideas. This suggests that metalearning is not the first thing students think of, but if the inventory is supported with space for additional thought and explanation, for example, in written form or in impartial discussions or interviews, then metalearning becomes more apparent in the students thinking.    


    • Biggs, J. (1985). The role of metalearning in study processes. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 55, 185-212.
    • Lucas, U. & Meyer, J.H.F. (2005). ‘Towards a mapping the student world’: the identification of variation in students’ conceptions of, and motivations to learn, introductory accounting. TheBritish Accounting Review, 37 (2) 177-204.
    • Meyer, J.H.F. & Shanahan, M.P. (2004). Developing metalearning capacity in students — Actionable theory and practical lessons learned in first-year economics. Innovations in Education and Teaching International (Special issue: Metalearning in Higher Education), 41 (4) 443-458.
    • Meyer, J.H.F. Shanahan, M.P. Norton, L. Walters, D. Ward, S. Hewertson. H. (2005) Developing students’ metalearning capacity: a grounded assessment framework
      13th Improving Student Learning Symposium, ‘Improving Student Learning Through Assessment’ Imperial College, London 5-7 September, 2005.
    • Norton, LS (2001) The Ideal *** Inventory. A useful tool for pedagogical research in higher education. Higher Education Academy Resources (accessed 7 December 2004).
    • Yorke, M. (2004) Increasing the chances of student success. Keynote address to the Improving Student Learning Symposium, Birmingham, 8 September 2004