HELF - a new strategy for higher education

Interview with Rupert Bagraith regarding a free online resource that informs the practices of teachers and students in higher education ⎮ 3 min read

Go to the profile of Rupert Bagraith
Jan 22, 2019
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I was recently interviewed by the Nature team about my contribution to the Higher Education Learning Framework, which was published in 2018 by the Science of Learning Research Centre based at the University of Queensland, Australia. 

What is the utility of the framework for university teachers?

The Higher Education Learning Framework (HELF) was informed by national and international experts in learning and higher education, and grounded on a synthesis of existing frameworks, literature, and research on the topic. It offers university teachers a foundational resource from which to garner the latest thinking on learning and apply it to their teaching practice. The framework also provides university teachers a convergent and novel perspective on learning in higher education, incorporating a ‘Science of Learning’ lens that threads together the often-disparate thinking in the disciplines of education, neuroscience, and psychology.  

What are the different HELF Principles that constitute the framework?

The HELF is based on the seven main themes emerging from a rigorous study into higher education learning undertaken by the authors. From these themes, principles relating to university learning were drawn. Each of the seven themes were investigated, providing (1) an explanation of the principle, (2) implications of the principle for teachers, students and assessment and (3) a discussion of the current literature relating to the principle. 

A separate chapter will be devoted to each of the seven themes: 

1. Learning as becoming 

2. Contextual learning 

3. Emotions and learning 

4. Interactive learning 

5. Learning to learn and higher order thinking 

6. Learning challenge and difficulty 

7. Deep and meaningful learning.

How is HELF set out?

A separate chapter is dedicated to each of the seven principles that constitute the HELF. Each chapter provides an explanation of the principle. This is drawn from the higher education literature and evidence from the science of learning, overlaid with insights from interviews with experts as part of the HELF study, and describes the main constructs that relate to the principle. Following the explanation there are examples of how to enact the principles through strategies. These strategies are not exhaustive, but rather provide guidance as to indicative strategies that can be explored. 

The strategies are divided into 3 headings: 

  • strategies for university teachers, 
  • strategies for students and 
  • strategies for assessment. 

Although students per se are not a target audience of this handbook, we encourage educators to share these strategies for effective learning with students. A brief theoretical overview highlighting key literature, concludes each chapter.

How should academics and teachers apply the HELF framework to their particular educational setting? 

Depending on their role in university education the HELF could be applied in various ways:

  • At an Individual level, the HELF could be used by university teachers to reflect on one’s own teaching practices. In doing so, finding affirmation for the excellent teaching that is already occurring and identifying aspects of the HELF Principles that are priority areas for growth and change.
  • At a Faculty/Course level, the HELF could be used to inform instructional and learning design for program and course design.
  • At an Organisational level, the HELF could be used to explore professional development in terms of teaching capability enhancement, as well as university-wide programs to improve student learning.
Go to the profile of Rupert Bagraith

Rupert Bagraith

Organisational Psychologist , Science of Learning Research Centre

I am a Project Officer in the Science of Learning Research Centre at The University of Queensland and Learning Designer at the Institute of Teaching and Learning Innovation. I am also a registered Psychologist with postgraduate training in Organisational Psychology. My research, teaching, and consulting experience has focused on organisational and capability development, as well as more specifically on professional and student learning.

1 Comments

Go to the profile of Jay Somasundaram
Jay Somasundaram 7 days ago

I’m firmly in the “there is a revolution a’coming” camp, as described in the paper “A Revolution in the Science of Learning: Higher Education at the Crossroads” (http://www.seaairweb.info/conference/2017Proceedings.pdf#page=260 ) and in the subsequent paper “Sustaining Competencies and Employability: A Fishbone Model for Engineering Education to Fit the Processes of Life” (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328262373_Sustaining_Competencies_and_Employability_A_Fishbone_Model_for_Engineering_Education_to_Fit_the_Processes_of_Life )


The problem is that “Science advances one funeral at a time”, and Education as a world system is virtually immortal. Traditional paradigms are embedded in the design of the infrastructure, and disruptive innovation is quite hard. Disruptors such as the world’s most popular MOOC, “Learning How to Learn” (https://www.coursera.org/learn/learning-how-to-learn) are at work, though.