Visible Learning


Helping students become their own teachers

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … achievement results
  • Knowing is … satisfactory performance
  • Learner is … a performer
  • Learning is … improving achievement scores
  • Teaching is … impacting achievement scores




Visible Learning is the title of a 2008 book in which John Hattie summarized the research into more than 100 teaching emphases and practices. Based on quantitative meta-analyses of published studies, Hattie calculated the impact (usually defined in terms of changes in student achievement) of and ranked those strategies. The most impactful revolved around tactics to raise student awareness of their own achievements (e.g., self-reported grades, formative assessment). That result led to Hattie’s meaning for the term Visible Learning, which has to do with helping students become their own teachers by rendering their learning visible to them and others.


Perhaps because it is wrapped in the vocabularies of quantitative studies and meta-analyses, there has been a tendency within the educational establishment to uncritically embrace the interpretations and advice of Visible Learning. The work is not without its flaws, however. In particular, with regard to our foci, virtually no attention is given to questions around the nature of learning and the purposes of education. Those matters are left to common sense, and so most references to learning are fitted to Correspondence Discourses and the entire discussion aligns best with a traditionalist, standardized frame of education. These details are perhaps to be expected, since quantitative educational research (i.e., the source material for the book) typically operationalizes learning in terms of achievement scores on standardized tests and teaching in terms of measurable impacts over time on those scores.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

John Hattie

Status as a Theory of Learning

Within Visible Learning, learning tends to be treated as synonymous with achievement.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Visible Learning is almost entirely focused on teaching emphases and practices, and so it is properly identified as being focused on teaching.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Despite a veneer of scientific rigor – which is supported by its consideration of hundreds and hundreds of quantitative studies – Visible Learning actually falls short on more than one of our criteria or a scientific discourse. Most obviously, very little attention is given to assumptions about, metaphors for, and definitions of learning – which is perhaps necessitated by the instrumental focus on achievement results. In addition, the work has been criticized for its numerous methodological flaws.

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2020). “Visible Learning” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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