Why should I be interested in Marginal Learning Gains?
Marginal Learning Gains (MLG) is inspired by the philosophy that underpinned the extraordinary success of Team GB Cycling at the Beijing and London Olympics and of the Team Sky Pro Cycling Team at the 2012 Tour de France. The philosophy is simple; focus on doing a few small things really well. Once you do this, aggregating the gains you make will become part of a bigger impact on learning. For students, for teachers and schools.
MLG brings together some huge pieces of thinking that have influenced my own pedagogical reflections over the years. To name just four, for there are far too many to list here, some of my biggest influences that have inspired amazing conversations and insight include: Assessment for Learning (Dylan Wiliam), The Motivated School (Alan McLean), Growth Mindsets (Carol Dweck) and Visible Learning (John Hattie). Not to forget the repository of amazing thinking and unexpected inspiration gleaned from the wonderful world of http://www.TED.com. Like everybody engaged in education, however, the sources of greatest influence and inspiration on designing effective learning continue to stem from the teachers and students with whom I have taught and subsequent reflections on my own practice.
How do I use the Marginal Learning Gains approach to teaching and learning?
MLG gives us the opportunity to hone in on just one tiny aspect of our teaching, hence the mantra, “Tiny Changes, Big Difference”. This might be a simple step to simply consider what our teaching mindset is in when we plan for any mixed ability class or it may involve undertaking some deliberate planning around what language we want to use so that we explicitly value the effort and process of learning demonstrated by a vulnerable Year 10 student, or how we frame a response to a confused Year 12 student to ensure they think deeper for longer and don’t just give up.
MLG is just one attempt to make sense of the complexities of learning. MLG seeks to drill down into the micro-aspects of teaching to see what tiny changes might be made to make a big difference. We all acknowledge that there is no one single effective teaching method that will work for all at al times in all contexts.
The complexities of teaching reflect the complexities of learning and there’s a real beauty in that.
What will I find on the Marginal Learning Gains Blog?
This blog is both a practical research ‘base-station’ for anybody interested in using Marginal Learning Gains and a hub* for you to connect with some amazing MLG work already underway and being documented around the web.
You will soon discover that despite the tiny-steps approach that Marginal Learning Gains encourages it is by no means a quick-fix approach. Instead, it is probably better to think of it as a form of micro-surgery. MLG is all about looking very deeply into the smallest aspects of practice in order to secure, improve and develop them. I recognise that there may be inherent dangers in presenting such a micro-anlaysis approach but from the work I have undertaken on MLG already and from what I have seen and heard from amazing practitioners online and in their classrooms, MLG provides a really manageable starting point for really sustainable improvements than can be deepened through action research, coaching programmes and high quality reflective practicel. MLG is proving to be a great starting point for anybody who is either just embarking or well on their way to becoming a highly reflective practitioner.
Thankfully, there are some practical strategies included here that can be taken and used in their entirety and feel free to stop there if you want to. But the approach of MLG is to ensure that for every aspect of learning we take the trouble, time and energy to design, we also take as much trouble, time and to reflect upon. In this way, we can squeeze as much learning as we possibly can from a simple question-stem, card sort or organisational strategy so it can be tweaked, adapted, developed and re-applied as integral parts of our practice. When we know whywe’re designing learning in a particular way (to build affiliation, to develop a sense of agency or encourage autonomy) we start to see how one tiny aspect of our practice can, when aggregated with the infinite number of other interactions, decisions and thoughts that we experience during any given lesson, day or term can become part of an excellent (or outstanding) learning experience. And that’s the what of learning design that all reflective practitioners are seeking.
So, read on, explore and take your time to immerse yourself in the work of Marginal Learning Gains. All feedback, comments, ideas, resources, practice you have seen, practice you lead on, guest posts and so on are aways gratefully received…
*just to warn you that you need to watch out for the painful cycling puns…sorry.