The Project

The active collaborative learning for student success project ran from March 2017 – February 2019 and has now concluded. This website serves as a historic legacy and is no longer regularly updated.

This project was part of the wider HEFCE, now Office for Students, programme – “Addressing barriers to student success”, funded through the Catalyst Fund. It ran from March 2017 to February 2019.

The project focused on scaling up Active Collaborative Learning for Student Success across three institutions: Nottingham Trent University, the University of Bradford and Anglia Ruskin University.

The Proposal

Our proposal was to increase the use of two active learning pedagogies: SCALE-UP (Student-Centred Active Learning Environment with Upside-down Pedagogies) and TBL (Team-Based learning) at the three institutions, as a strategy to address attainment disparities. This aimed to benefit not only students from low socio-economic backgrounds and certain black and minority ethnic students, but also all students for whom there are unexplained disparities in attainment.


Previous experience, evaluation results, as well as anecdotal and literary evidence, indicated that active, collaborative pedagogies could be used to address attainment disparities. Additionally, a focus on inclusive curriculum design moves the focus from ‘add on’ support for specific groups of students to a core, structural change that removes unintended barriers to student success. The three universities that collaborated on this project had the experience of using SCALE-UP and TBL but at a relatively small scale. It had proven challenging for HE institutions to spread the adoption of these pedagogies beyond the early adopters, even though the value of the approaches is widely recognised. This project, therefore, focused on addressing institutional barriers to widespread adoption and tested whether the benefits of the pedagogies continue to work at scale.

Summary of findings on impact

Following the conclusion of the project in March 2019, the following benefits were identified.

  1. The use of active collaborative approaches to learning provides benefits for all students (NTU, ARU, UoB).
  2. Active collaborative learning reduces and, in some cases, removes gaps in student engagement and attendance, attainment and progression (NTU, ARU, UoB).
  3. These benefits are magnified in contexts in which:
    1. there is a greater extent of use within a module (ARU);
    2. there is greater engagement with the pedagogic model and with the educational developer (UoB);
    3. students study three or more SCALE-UP modules in an academic year (NTU).
  4. Adoption of active collaborative learning in an institution takes time to mature but benefits can be seen during the first year of adoption.
  5. There were some common themes across the partner institutions:
    1. students and staff recognised that active collaborative learning is a more inclusive form of learning when compared with other pedagogies (NTU, ARU, UoB);
    2. staff expressed high levels of satisfaction using the pedagogies and the intention to continue with them (NTU, ARU, UoB);
    3. students and staff recognised that active collaborative learning enhances employability (ARU, UoB).

What we aimed to achieve

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Reduce attainment disparities within certain groups by expanding implementation of active learning in the classroom across institution:

The project aimed to expand the use of SCALE-UP and TBL to address attainment disparities for students from low socio-economic backgrounds and certain black and minority ethnicities.

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Roll out these approaches across institution:

Prior to the project, approaches had been applied on a relatively small scale and often at the individual module level. ‘Scaling up / delivery at scale’ did not merely mean ‘more modules’ across a wider range of disciplines or subjects, but instead a widespread use of considered whole course approaches which would fundamentally shift the core teaching and delivery paradigms of a course.

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Address institutional barriers that have hitherto prevented wide scale adoption, by creating a blueprint for implementation at scale:

Barriers can relate to teaching practice and the full complexity of implementing change; they can also be ‘structural’ such as institution policy, timetable restrictions, and the manner in which learning analytics record data.

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Expected Benefits

The project’s expected benefits were that it would not only benefit students from low socio-economic backgrounds and certain black and minority ethnic students, but also students for whom there are unexplained disparities in attainment at our institutions. The project’s full report can be found here.

The project also expected to produce a guide to active collaborative learning which would detail an approach that can be adopted at scale at various universities and in a range of institutional contexts. The completed guide is available here.

Wider impact and implications

The outcomes from the three institutions were evaluated to strengthen the evidence base as well as demonstrate how these approaches can be effectively implemented at scale and within a wide range of discipline areas and settings.

What type of active learning are you interested in?

Learn more about Active Collaborative Learning by getting in touch today.