In recent years learning has taken on a new and very different mantle from that with which earlier generations were presented. In the past the teacher took to the stage and provided the information and knowledge upon which students were examined and schools were rated. Those examinations, from KS2 and SATs to GCSE, held the key to a school’s reputation and competitiveness and were major contributors to parental and student pressure to perform.


Over the years, however, the emphasis on learning more has given way to helping students to learn better and ultimately to become better learners. It is becoming widely accepted that there is more to learning than merely the absorption of subject matter. Learning to learn is found to create a number of dispositions that have their root in 7 recognisable dimensions and research tells us that those dimensions are dynamic, can be managed, and importantly, affect the way we behave throughout life.


So, nowadays learning is as much about understanding, and being aware of, how we learn as it is about what we learn. Each of us has a much more influential role in managing our habits, behaviours and performance, both economically and socially than once we believed we had. Thus, teaching and the way we conduct ourselves as learners needs to go beyond subject matter to understanding how each of us learns and, thereby, taking ownership for what has increasingly become known as our Learning Power.

ELLI: the instrument or tool that captures the responses that learners give to an on-line questionnaire. It then plots proficiency in each of the 7 dimensions that academic and operational research have revealed to be the pillars of learning engagement. ELLI also tracks change in learner responses to each of the 7 dimensions that constitute Learning Power as time progresses. ELLI is dynamic and is directly responsive to changes in learner circumstance and the demands of the environment in which they find themselves.

THE LANGUAGE OF LEARNING: The majority of schools choose to adopt the names that the research teams gave to the 7 dimensions at the time that they originally isolated them, namely Changing and Learning; Critical Curiosity; Creativity; Meaning Making; Strategic Awareness; Learning Relationships and Resilience. However, a wide range of alternatives has found favour over the years whilst always mirroring the original definitions so as not to lose the meaning of the original term. Among them are characters from the Simpsons or Disney; animals with specific habits and behaviours and occupations that are readily recognisable.

LEARNING POWER: is the name that we give to the ‘pattern of proficiency’ captured by the ‘Spidergraphic’ provided by ELLI. It is the collective term that enables us to view the learner ‘in the round’, read the pattern of strengths and weaknesses that ELLI has created and delve more deeply to reveal underlying habits and behaviours. Together they provide a rich framework for the development and management of learning energy, a framework becoming known as the Supple Learning Mind.

GETTING LEARNING FIT: Learning is an attitude of mind and not an aptitude. As such it is eminently learnable and proficiency as a learner has economic and social consequences throughout life. Getting learning fit is no different from the physical and mental training of an athlete. Learners also need more than tools and techniques, they need stamina, strength, coordination and self-awareness.

Learning to learn is concerned with ‘how’ students learn but critical to every school’s performance is the imparting, absorbing and application of the ‘what ‘ of learning … in other words, the content of multi-disciplinary subject matter. Thus, the challenge for every teacher is to find ways of presenting new knowledge and information so as to embrace their students’ capacity and aptitude for learning, gaining ownership not only of the process of learning but of the material content of their lessons.

The teaching of subject matter cannot, therefore, be divorced from a concern for ‘learning fitness’. How do the different subjects and topics lend themselves to developing those learning dimensions, habit and behaviors that determine the quality of student Learning Power, their mental fitness to optimize their performance? How can the curriculum as a whole add up to a comprehensive ‘work out’ of the energies or behaviors that enable students to be the best they can be?.

What special role does each subject, or topic, have to play, when regarded as a specialist piece of equipment? How can it play a fruitful role in exercising in the mind gym? Stephen Fry argued that history is good for developing imagination and empathy. Can this perspective apply to the curriculum as a whole?

From this functional perspective, some interesting overlaps and alliances between traditionally separate subjects might begin to emerge.

  • Both scientists and poets need the skill, and the disposition, for meticulous, sometimes very slow and patient, observation. They sometimes need the ability to suspend thinking in the interests of more detailed seeing. So could English and Biology find new ways to join forces?
  • Both Mathematics and History involve the ability to be inductive: to seek and detect underlying patterns that recur across seemingly disparate episodes and events — could they DOWNLOAD ‘Learning Power’s Language’ DOWNLOAD An Aborigine Experience: Case History work together to help young people dissemble not just particular patterns, but the very processes and skills of pattern-detection?

At a much more general level … we should perhaps ask what kinds of engagement with the process of learning are afforded by any and every topic?

Harvard’s Professor David Perkins has introduced what he calls ‘wild’ and ‘tame’ topics. Wild ones are full of interesting unexplored possibilities because they stimulate question and exploration and thus exercise the ‘learning muscles’ of questioning and making meaning. Other topics, the tame ones, seem only to afford retention and comprehension BUT is that the case?

We could nominate and debate subject matter that might reasonably fall into the ‘wild’ or ‘tame’ categories endlessly but as teachers our job is to introduce the wild side of our specialist discipline to our classes and thereby, share the enjoyment that is engendered by the learning partnerships between students and teachers becoming integral to classroom culture.

As learning comes of age with the application of Learning Power, an approach that recognizes that learning to learn involves more than skills, we find that it is attitudes, values, interests and beliefs in particular that play an essential role in our willingness to learn. ‘Skill’ is a handy word, and alongside intelligence and intellect, a favorite descriptor within the educational establishment. Why? Because they prompt a dismissal of learning as a process to be managed alongside the presentation of what students are required to know.

Perhaps even more significant in understanding how learning has metamorphosed is the growing reluctance to pigeon-hole students according to their past academic record. Learning to learn is the new imperative and capable of transforming student performance not only at school but throughout life. So, learning how to learn involves much more than engaging a set of skills, it requires knowing yourself and how you learn and being able to apply that knowledge and understanding to the task in hand, playing to your strengths and using those strengths to underpin your weaknesses.

Learning Power may be becoming an increasingly recognizable classroom phenomenon but the attributes that characterize its dimensions, habits and behaviors have been in the making for close on 30 years. Formalized by a research team at the University of Bristol around the turn of the millennium, there remain many examples of how instructive learning processes can be destructive as well as constructive. Taking literacy as an example … there is, of course, much more to literacy than simply ‘the ability to read and write’. A 2003 survey by the National Foundation for Educational Research found that five years of provision of the Literacy Hour in Primary Schools had had two results, one expected, the other unexpected. Levels of reading ability had improved but levels of reading enjoyment had diminished. 15% fewer 11 year-old boys had enjoyed reading stories than had five years previously … and this despite this being the “Harry Potter’ generation. Indeed, a similar study in the United States had found that ‘teacher-directed approaches that tell children what to do, when to do it and how to do it curtail the development of (learning) autonomy’. Disposition to learn is in part an expression of willingness and in part an indicator of the degree to which one is disposed to make use of that skill, knowledge or experience. It captures the mindset with which the learner approaches a task and their ability to activate the learning energy that enables them to employ the appropriate learning dimensions, habits and behaviors. This, in turn, is more than the application of learning’s energies but the discovery of learning as an adventure and a source of the pleasure that the new information and new experience can exert.



Academic and operational research has conclusively revealed that learning is not an ability or skill but a latent energy that everyone has, can develop and manage. That energy is also acutely responsive to changes in circumstance and in environment.

The concept of Learning Power was devised by two leading professors at the University of Bristol, Professor Patricia Broadfoot CBE, a learning assessment specialist, and Professor Guy Claxton, whose interest is in the development of learning. It is Professor Broadfoot’s work with schools that isolated the 7 ‘raw building blocks’ that constitute Learning Power and underlie the creation of learning energy. This concept was further deconstructed by Professor Claxton and his team into a developmental framework that they have termed ‘the supple learning mind’.

The framework of the Supple Learning Mind captures the key psychological characteristics found to be of the highest value in helping students to learn, and thereby thrive, in a complex world.

  • The Emotional domain of learning … concerned with the habits and behaviours that determine Resilience
  • The Cognitive domain of learning … capturing Creativity, Critical Curiosity and Meaning Making
  • The Social domain of learning … Learning Relationships
  • The Strategic domain of learning … where Strategic Awareness and the embracing of new knowledge and experience to direct change, Changing and Learning


‘Learning is the eye of the mind’

In these days of uncertainty, change is unpredictable but inevitable. Offering every citizen of this newly fashioned world the opportunity to create a lifelong learning mind-set is our endeavour. Lifelong learning has become the critical success factor underpinning economic and social performance and productive global citizenship .

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