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Using Learning Gain to Evaluate Undergraduate Business Education
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During the COVID-19 pandemic, universities across the globe replaced in-person teaching, with online teaching, because of widespread campus shutdowns. Through the application of a pre-existing learning gain model, it was possible to review the learning of one cohort of students receiving in-person teaching, and then the next cohort of students on the same course receiving the online teaching. Overall, a drop in perceived learning was reported from the cohort of students receiving online teaching. For female students, the most significant drop in learning related to practical understanding, whereas for male students, the most significant drop in learning related to theoretical knowledge.

marketing education student learning learning gain higher education teaching quality marketization business education
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Entry Collection: COVID-19
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Update Date: 30 Jun 2022
Table of Contents

    1. Introduction

    Students enrolling on undergraduate degrees now are unlike any generation that has preceded them. The population cohort commonly known as Generation Z (Gen Z) were born between 1995 and 2012 [1], and this group currently forms approximately 60% of the undergraduate university students in the UK [2]. They were born into a world where Google and Wikipedia already existed. They have never known a life without computers, or the internet, and do not see these technologies as tools, but as an integral part of their everyday existence [3]. They do not even view their mobile phones as being luxury items of technology, but instead consider them to be an essential part of everyday life [4]. These students are at home with the concept of social media, and use platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram for the majority of their communication. In fact, it is a generation that has garnered significant attention for its uniqueness in comparison with previous generations [3]. Together, these factors have a direct impact upon how we market the benefits and opportunities of higher education to them.
    Simultaneously, university internationalization has become an important investment for education institutions in recent decades [5][6], and this has seen the higher education sector become an active player in the global marketplace [7]. Whilst this increased number of overseas students in the UK brings much added value to ongoing issues, such as classroom diversity and tuition fee income [7][8], it further challenges the operational ‘norms’ of pedagogy, with student demands for more technological interaction and experiential learning becoming more common.
    Concerted effort to increase academic adoption and integration of digital, and social media, technologies to support contemporary pedagogic practice has been evident across the sector [3]. However, whilst the landscape of higher education has embraced advancements in technology-enhanced learning (TEL), to meet the needs of the 21st-century learner, students from this generation themselves were certainly not prepared to, or expecting to, experience their undergraduate degrees entirely through online learning, which has been the primary resulting impact for them of undertaking higher education during a pandemic which forced university campuses in the UK to close for approximately 18 months.
    The shift from didactic face-to-face time with students to a complete program of online learning happened literally overnight for the higher education sector, as social distancing restrictions were put into place by the government, and new terminologies, such as ‘lockdown’ and ‘the tier system’, became the norm. Educators duly faced a number of social, pedagogical, and technological challenges in this new era of learning remotely through online teaching [9]. As a result, educational institutions continue to experience unprecedented times as they navigate students’ expectations with a range of TEL tools available, while balancing this with the reality of their own institutions’ ability to deliver a high-quality educational experience for students.

    2. Online Teaching Pedagogies

    Takavarasha [10] asserts that technology is now an integral part of everyone’s lives. The 21st-century consumer is a digitally ‘savvy’ choice maker [11] whose expectations, motives, and experiences are socially constructed [12]. This is evident in higher education, where the researchers witness innovative technology-enhanced teaching and learning models, often driven by student demands for bespoke learning [13]. Technology can positively impact student learning by offering a personalized and interactive experience, thereby enabling students to take a deeper responsibility for their educational journey [14]. Clearly, successful teaching strategies can minimize any resulting learning anxiety [15]. Furthermore, these creative approaches can be adopted by higher education institutions in an attempt to build synergy with the latest trends in educational technologies [16]. The authors acknowledge that shifts in education, and the introduction of technology-enhanced learning, were ongoing before the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the campus closures due the pandemic acted as a catalyst for demanding rapid change which might otherwise have taken a decade or more to achieve.
    As a sector, we have therefore seen a shift from didactic teaching approaches in higher education to embracing creative pedagogies centred upon enhancing the student learning experience [17], with tactics such as flipped classroom (students receive teaching materials beforehand so that subsequent lecture time can be used to reinforce learning) and gamification (the use of game mechanics, such as points scoring and league tables within teaching to increase student engagement) now more commonly applied. This approach complements the characteristics of the modern-day student, who demands speed, nonlinear processing and social learning [18], collaboration [19], and multitasking [20].

    3. Learning Gain

    With the ever-increasing costs of higher education tuition fees [21][22][23], and an opposition to student loan funding support [24], the value of higher education is often questioned by students [25][26] and there is growing pressure to ensure the availability of relevant metrics to support the ongoing marketization agenda [6]. As a result, educators must consider the value and impact of their own teaching [27][28][29][30], whether it is delivered face-to-face, online, or as a hybrid of both.
    The landscape of higher education has therefore experienced a shift which has seen more measurement and assessment of student learning outcomes. This reliance upon metrics forms part of a performativity agenda [31]. Within such a metric-driven environment, the learning gains of students are now considered to be key indicators of teaching and learning excellence [32], and whilst other metrics may only feed into the cynicism discourse (moving to a consumerist model), and the pragmatism discourse (demonstrating value to stakeholders) of teaching excellence, evaluating student learning gain both supports these, and also supports the aspirationalism discourse relating to the integrity of teaching enhancement undertaken [33].
    A recent office for students study concluded that existing methods for determining student learning gain need more development to enable them to account for contextual and subject factors [34][35]. Andrade [36] proposes that the actual definition of learning gain should be for individual higher education institutions to determine, but Arico et al. assert that ‘learning gain is now prominent when considering the effectiveness of higher education’ [37] (p. 249). As such, our understanding of student learning gain should help us to understand how we can maximize the effectiveness of our own teaching [28], and how the value of our teaching may have changed with the transition from face-to-face to online teaching.
    Taking these considerations into account, research has been undertaken which used an alternative learning gain model first proposed by Polkinghorne et al. [38], and subsequently detailed by Polkinghorne et al. [39], which integrates both student explicit knowledge (subject learning that can be codified and verbalized as theory) and tacit understanding (experience and practical application of knowledge) to create a unique two-dimensional evaluation of student learning. Therefore, the model is suited perfectly for holistically assessing learning outcomes, and for informing the continuous improvement process [40] to ensure that the quality of teaching being delivered, and the resulting student learning experience, can be understood, and then improved upon year on year.

    4. Using Learning Gain to Evaluate Undergraduate Business Education

    Evaluating student learning gain can help educators to understand how student learning on a course may change year on year, to direct their attention with regard to how to improve specific aspects of the learning process for their students, and to monitor the effectiveness of different delivery methods such as in-person, hybrid and online teaching. Furthermore, evaluating student learning gain can assist educators to appreciate how the effectiveness of their teaching may vary between different student groupings within the overall student cohort, e.g. gender, social background and/or entry qualifications.


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    View Times: 137
    Entry Collection: COVID-19
    Revisions: 5 times (View History)
    Update Date: 30 Jun 2022
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      O’Sullivan, H.; Polkinghorne, M.; Taylor, J. Using Learning Gain to Evaluate Undergraduate Business Education. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 07 February 2023).
      O’Sullivan H, Polkinghorne M, Taylor J. Using Learning Gain to Evaluate Undergraduate Business Education. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed February 07, 2023.
      O’Sullivan, Helen, Martyn Polkinghorne, Julia Taylor. "Using Learning Gain to Evaluate Undergraduate Business Education," Encyclopedia, (accessed February 07, 2023).
      O’Sullivan, H., Polkinghorne, M., & Taylor, J. (2022, June 24). Using Learning Gain to Evaluate Undergraduate Business Education. In Encyclopedia.
      O’Sullivan, Helen, et al. ''Using Learning Gain to Evaluate Undergraduate Business Education.'' Encyclopedia. Web. 24 June, 2022.