Rethinking Assessment digital learner profile pilots: learnings so far

Five learnings from our digital learner profile pilots in England

Last week the cross party All Party Parliamentary Group for Schools, Learning and Assessment, chaired by MPs Flick Drummond and Emma Hardy, published their final report recommending ‘a study to evaluate the use of digital learner profiles’ – conducted in consultation with Rethinking Assessment.

The report noted that: The design of learner profiles should serve as a record of children’s and young people’s achievements in academic, applied and creative subjects as well as a record of transferable skills. Populated throughout the school journey, learner profiles should be designed to travel with pupils and young people to their next stage of learning, be this secondary school, further or higher education, or work.

The limitations of relying on academic grades as the sole measure of student achievement is increasingly evident, and this latest report adds to the growing weight of evidence.

An exam system which fails a third of young people, persistent student absence following the pandemic, increased recognition of socioeconomic disparities, and awareness of student mental health needs are just a few factors leading to a re-evaluation of how we assess our young people.

Educators, policymakers and researchers are now actively exploring new ways of evidencing and assessing learners' knowledge, skills and capabilities. Rethinking Assessment is at the forefront of this movement, and our ongoing work piloting new assessment approaches has provided valuable insights into the potential for strength based multimodal assessment.

One particular innovation driving change in policy and practice around the world towards greater equity for all learners is the idea of digital learner profiles.

Having spent two years researching, developing and testing out an evidence-informed learner profile framework, we have now started to pilot our model in primary, secondary and special educational needs settings.

Below are the top five things we have learnt so far.

1. School culture

The success of Learner Profiles hinges on fostering a school culture that embraces holistic approaches to student achievement. We recognise the need to shift the narrative surrounding assessment, empowering schools and colleges to adopt a more balanced approach. By encouraging school leaders, teachers, and governors to understand and appreciate the benefits of strengths based multimodal assessment, we can drive a culture shift towards a more inclusive, robust and well-rounded assessment system.

2. Professional development for teachers

Educators play a crucial role in capturing students’ broader skills and strengths, beyond academic grades alone. Providing teachers with professional development focussed on the value of learner profiles is critical for elevating how their significance is perceived. Continued Professional Learning and Development (CPLD) should support teachers in building comprehensive profiles that evidence young people’s strengths and development in areas like creative thinking, collaboration, communication, and digital skills – using different formative and summative assessment tools. Practical tools and resources, guidance, training and school support is needed to implement this new approach to evidencing achievement effectively. Teachers involved in our pilots are gaining inspiration and motivation by working with others in the UK and around the world that are pioneering this approach.

3. Integration into the curriculum

What we measure, we value. Only by providing the space to collect evidence beyond just academic outcomes can we reinforce the importance of these endeavours in our education system. For full impact, the development of learner profiles needs to be integrated into the curriculum and timetable. Designating a specific time within the school day or week enables the allocation of adequate space and resources. Schools and colleges that we are working with have carved our dedicated time for learner profile development in existing curriculum areas like careers education, information, advice and guidance, and personal, social, health and economic education. Many schools are also building learning cultures around coaching and regular reflective practice. For careers and progression, developing learner profiles can help gather content, information, and evidence to help learners structure a CV, a portfolio of work, or UCAS personal statement, for exiting formal education.

4. Co-designing with young people

Active collaboration with students and teachers helps schools ensure learner profiles provide relevant and meaningful information while aligning with their institutional vision and values. Involving students in the design process also fosters ownership of the assessment process, ensuring their profiles genuinely reflect their goals and aspirations. Our Learner Profile framework provides an important foundation to build upon, and learners are particularly drawn to developing a portfolio of beautiful work, gathering testimonials from peers, teachers, mentors and employers, and reflecting on their learning, their personal development and growth over time. Learners want to know themselves better and understand and articulate their strengths, and present themselves in creative ways using different media formats with photos, video, avatars and voice notes. Multimedia formats allows for greater inclusion, particularly for those with specific learning needs or where English is not their first language.

5. Lightening teacher workload

By embracing technology and digital platforms, learner profiles have the potential to ease some of the workload burden on teachers. For example, some schools we are working with are replacing traditional end-of-year parent reports with digital profiles and sites featuring multimedia representations of student progress, including photos, videos, reflections, and presentations. Sharing these with parents and presenting them at Student Conference events can also streamline communication between schools, students, and parents, further reducing the burden on busy teachers. Teachers are particularly drawn to giving credit and recognition to skills and areas of learning not currently recognised, which parents value, and having a shared framework and shared language around specific skills or attributes which improves teaching and learning.

As we forge ahead with digital learner profiles, our work illuminates a path towards a more inclusive and holistic assessment system, and our pilots are offering invaluable insights to inform the future shape of learner profile research and development, as well as national educational practice.

Recently we have launched our Learner Profile Starter Kit – bringing together tools, resources and materials from the pilots – to support schools, colleges and education providers in implementing comprehensive, student-centric assessment.

Recognising the time constraints that busy teachers face, the Starter Kit makes it easy for teachers and practitioners to get started in creating their own digital learner profiles using commonly available tools such as Google Sites or Microsoft software. Educators can customise these to suit the unique needs of their context.

Over the next year we will continue to develop off-the-shelf resources and expand our Starter Kit, share research and learnings from our pilots, and enable teachers and educators to shape new assessment practices which help develop well-rounded learners equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in an evolving and complex world.

To be part of this exciting journey you can register now for free access to Rethinking Assessment’s learner profile starter kit and join our community of practice events series.

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