John Hattie, Deb Masters and Katie Birch on the Visible Learning journey

TS: What inspired you to get into the field of education?

John Hattie: The only way to leave my country town was to enrol to be a teacher – what a fortuitous decision that was. I loved seeing that you could have an impact, and there was a challenge in reaching out to all students. Then I pursued academia knowing that if it did not work out I could return to the love of the classroom.

Deb Masters: When I was offered entry to university my school didn’t believe me. I set out to prove that I could succeed although others doubted my ability. I am constantly amazed at how little belief learners have in themselves (and often many teachers share these low expectations) and I am passionate about helping educators to get the very best out of each and every learner.

Kate Birch: The teaching gene is in my family. I played ‘school’ as a pre-schooler. I was determined to be a teacher. I always advocate for the underdog and work from a genuine belief that everyone can learn and that learning is lifelong.

How do you think your visible learning methodology has changed, or evolved, since the publication of the first Visible Learning book in 2008?

JH The hardest part of Visible Learning was creating the story that underpinned the evidence. This story has not changed, indeed it’s been reinforced since; although the data continues to evolve. The greatest change, reflected in our new book Visible Learning into Action, is seeing it in practice.

DM While the research grows, the impact of the research is growing faster. The evolution has been the framework and processes that we have developed to support education systems, schools and teachers to use the Visible Learning research and to bring it alive for impactful learning.

KB The publication of Visible Learning in 2008 mainly validated what I believed was best practice, and gave me the research base to substantiate my work in schooling improvement in general and accelerating learning in my particular field of literacy. It has given me the courage to apply gentle pressure, relentlessly, to leaders and teachers in schools and in systems, to achieve better outcomes for all learners.

What excites and/ or frustrates you most about the direction global education is taking?

JH The greatest frustration is why smart people do silly things in the name of improving education. The heart lies with the expertise in the schools and we need to esteem, privilege, and grow this expertise – there is probably no chance of doing this while we continue to believe the problem lies with the teachers!

DM What I love most about the Visible Learning research is that it provides a framework for success. Even more exciting are the places where whole education systems are using the framework and can clearly see the impact it is having. The constant search for something new seems so pointless when success is something we already have and know.

KB I am most excited by the global movement towards professional learning within networks and systems, where all educators are supported to be involved in an initiative such as Visible Learning. When everyone has shared aspirations and methodologies for change and all talk the same language of learning, then blue whales truly can change direction. This is what we are starting to see within our Collaborative Impact Programmes, and our teachers and learners are thriving within a consistent educational environment across a region.

What one message would you like those setting education policy to hear and understand?

JH Provide the resources to allow those in schools to network, to focus on asking what ‘impact’ means, to privilege growth as well as achievement, to maximise the number of students who want to keep coming to school, and to privilege expertise – while bringing all in the sector to be highly impactful.

DM Make sure that across your system you are collaborating. Really collaborating and really working together. In so many systems we work in, the organisations have the very best intentions but policy and policymakers do not always talk to each other effectively to get their education ducks lined up. And the teachers and students are often suffering because of it.

KB I believe the policy makers in any country or state genuinely have students’ best interests at heart. However, there are too many distractors, and the crucial element has always been, and always will be the quality of the teacher. They are our most valuable resource.


John Hattie is professor and director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, Australia.

Deb Masters is a principal consultant at Cognition Education and the global director of Visible Learningplus.

Kate Birch is an education consultant in the Visible Learningplus team at Cognition Education.