April 2nd, 2014

Taking a Look at the Effective Lifelong Learning Inventory


The Effective Lifelong Learning Inventory, developed by a research group at the University of Bristol in the UK, is a self-assessment tool that helps learners develop an awareness of how they learn and encourages them to take responsibility for their learning. It contains seven scales that profile an individual’s capacity for lifelong learning. The high and low ends of those scales identify two very different approaches to learning. I think they make a nice companion to the list of learner characteristics in the January 22, 2014 post.

  • Growth orientation – “Some learners appear to regard learning itself as learnable. They believe that, through effort, their minds get bigger and stronger, just as their bodies can.” This makes learning a lifelong process of growing, changing, and adapting. Trying to learn something is a positive experience—it’s what exercises the mind muscles. Opposite these growth-oriented learners are those who believe that the ability to learn is fixed. They avoid learning that appears difficult for fear it will show their learning limitations.
  • Creative curiosity – This learner characteristic is demonstrated by the desire to find things out, to get at the truth. These are not learners who accept what they are told without question. They challenge assumptions and aren’t afraid to do so in the presence of others. They want to come to their own conclusions and they do that by taking ownership of their learning. On the other side of the spectrum are very passive learners who tend to believe what they’re told. They don’t like to speculate or explore ideas in discussion.
  • Meaning-making – These learners want to see how things fit together. They are “on the lookout for links between what they are learning and what they already know.” They try to make sense of things in terms of their own experience. They ask questions that help them place new knowledge in a larger big picture. Opposite the mean-makers are learners whose approach to learning is piecemeal. They accumulate data, but are not inclined to put it all together in ways that make sense to them.
  • Dependence and fragility – Some learners are easily discouraged. They tend to go to pieces when they get stuck, which makes them risk averse. They depend on other people and external structures for their sense of self-esteem. “They are passive imbibers of knowledge, rather than active agents of their own learning.” Opposite are learners who like a challenge. They don’t get frightened when they find out that learning something is difficult. They aren’t afraid of making mistakes because they know they can learn from them.
  • Creativity – High scorers on this scale are able to see things from different perspectives. They like playing with ideas. They use their imaginations, visual imagery, pictures, and diagrams in their learning. They let ideas bubble up and understand that playfulness advances learning just as surely as purposeful, systematic thinking. On the opposite end are learners who prefer information that is clear cut, tried and true. They like to know how they are supposed to proceed. They do fine when there’s a routine way to tackle a task or solve a problem, but not so well in ambiguous situations.
  • Relationship/interdependence – These learners are “good at managing the balance between being sociable and being private in their learning.” They do learn from others, including teachers, family, and peers, but they also know the learning requires solitary study times. Learners on the opposite side are either too dependent on others or too isolated from them.
  • Strategic awareness – These learners are good at reflection and self-evaluation. They are mindful of how they learn. They can assess tasks, determining how much time and what resources they will need. They like to plan and organize their own learning. Opposite the strategically aware are learners who lack self-awareness, often confusing it with self-consciousness.

This paraphrase of the ELLI scales is drawn from: Deakin-Crick, R., Broadfood, P., and Claxton, G. (2004). Developing and effective lifelong learning inventory: the ELLI project. Assessment in Education, 11 (3), 247-271.

Here’s the research that documents the validity and reliability of the instrument: Deakin-Crick, R. and Yu, Guoxing (2008). Assessing learning dispositions: Is the Effective lifelong learning inventory valid and reliable as a measurement tool? Educational Research, 50 (4), 387-402.

For information about the instrument see: http://www.vitalpartnerships.com. (There is a fee and teachers cannot use it without training.)

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  • Kathleen Rowe

    Forget the expensive testing instrument. To me, the useful question is: How or where do these learning attitudes originate in the individual?

  • This is certainly an excellent list, but I have a few comments to describe some a little differently and expand some further.

    Growth orientation: Yes it is important to realize that everything constantly changes (that is the essential meaning of time passage) and that if one does not work to make that change beneficial, then the law of entropy will definitely make the change negative. As humans with highly plastic brains, we can continue to accumulate knowledge and analysis skills indefinitely, and if we want to become ever more effective relative to the reality of our existence, that is what we surely must do – and it's fun besides 🙂

    Creative curiosity: The most difficult part of "finding things out" and "challenging assumptions" is getting "out of the box" relative to those. That is, discovering both that there is something to find out, and that there has been an important, but hidden, assumption behind one's thinking. I have found this to be best accomplished by examining everything from as many viewpoints as possible. Part of this is cultivating the ability to at least temporarily "entertain" (give credibility to) ideas related to the subject that you consider to be weird, false or impractical, since this is necessary for the "green light thinking" required to fully examine them. Since all approaches are generally based on ideas with some validity, by this approach you will both understand this other viewpoint and perhaps learn a new useful idea which can then be integrated into your own set to make them even better.

    Meaning-making: Definitely the interconnections of new information to that which is already integrated into your brain is the most important process that you can do with it – much more important for thinking than actually remembering any details of the new information since these can always be retrieved from the Internet when needed if forgotten. Integration and generalization are the most important processes for someone wanting to be a highly analytical thinker.

    Dependence and fragility: Reality is very complex and not easily mastered, even in a lifetime of learning and effort. Accept the validity of this, courageously face it with self-esteem and confidence that knowledge and efficacy is possible in spite of this endless complexity, and take it as an enjoyable challenge to keep on doing this for your entire life.

    Creativity: I don't think this can be fully separated from the Creative Curiosity that I covered above.

    Dependence and fragility
    Relationship/interdependence: I have a little different take on this one, partly because, after getting "the big picture" from a teacher/mentor, I have always been a loner learner and found that to be entirely sufficient even in the days before the Internet when text books and library resources were fully available. But now with the Internet, once a person learns *how* to learn, I think that it can be done much faster, broader and more deeply without interactions with others. Relating too much on teachers, mentors and other "authorities" can highly bias one's thought processes to their way of thinking and stifle true creativity.

    Strategic awareness: Absolutely! Such continuous introspection from an early age to know oneself and the way one's mind works (and thereby to be able to train and hone it to work even better) is the only way to mental integration, generalized thinking and high creativity.

  • Thanks for this post about ELLI, and also the interesting comments! ELLI has been researched and used worldwide, and has been found to be remarkably effective amongst staff and students alike. As per the previous comment, the seven dimensions/factors do link to each other, for example Curiosity and Creativity – but there are also other links to be explored and we would encourage anyone using ELLI to interrogate the tool and find new ways of exploring and applying it. Anyone interested in exploring the research background, or using it in their specific context, do get in touch via our website http://www.vitalpartnerships.com/elli/