Case Studies and Examples

[Case Study] Reflective Learning

Screen Shot 2019 04 01 at 161053We exist to diagnose and remediate cumulative learning gaps that build up through a learner’s education. We do this by creating scalable and impactful resources including highly detailed diagnostic assessments and personalised, targeted catch-up curriculum that can be used in a range of contexts.

 We wish to see all learners, regardless of their background, realise their academic potential. By placing special focus on Mathematics and, in future, Physical Science, Reflective Learning is opening the doors to STEM careers.


Despite much emphasis being placed on Maths over the last few years, the recent matric results showed that less than half of learners chose to write pure Maths and of those, only 37% passed with 40% or more. This means that the majority of South Africa’s learners have significant gaps in understanding and/or chose Mathematical Literacy, which does not prepare them adequately for higher-level careers.

Dr Nic Spaull’s research shows that these gaps in understanding are divided along socioeconomic lines, with the poorest 60% of schools having persistent acquired learning deficits in Mathematics of, on average, four grade levels by the end of Grade 9. Dr Spaull’s comments that “for disadvantaged pupils, the gaps between what they should know and what they do know grow over time. This means that as time goes on, learners fall further and further behind the curriculum leading to a situation where remediation is almost impossible in high school since these learning gaps have been left unaddressed for too long.”

Screen Shot 2019 04 01 at 161018In terms of the technology, we are fortunate to be working with Lightswitch Solutions, a company who specialise in building bespoke management tools. We are always seeking to partner with projects that aim to improve Maths education, at a small or large scale. We have currently partnered with the Telkom Foundation, Schoolnet, Syafunda and Harmattan Renewables amongst others.

A critical word this commentary is ‘almost’. In other words, it is still possible to assist learners who have fallen behind, even as late as Grade 10. Reflective Learning has shown that this is possible through a targeted, personalised approach.

Project Activities

  1. Diagnostic Assessment: 
    This measures the mastery of critical foundational Maths concepts required for academic achievement and the behaviours that power learning. It is delivered online through any smart device and operates on an annual user subscription pricing model allowing for baseline and summative assessment. The results are available at an individual learner level for personalised remediation as well as at a cohort level to guide group interventions. Three assessments are available: Junior Primary for Grades 3 and 4, Senior Primary for Grades 5 to 7, and High School for Grades 8 upwards. These assessments can also be used to measure impact at a highly granular level.

  2. Personalised Reflective Journals (PRJs):
    Once a learner’s specific gaps have been identified, our PRJs target them by building up their understanding from wherever the gaps first began up to the level they should be at across the concepts being measured. Currently, these are focused at a High School level and are delivered in a manner that empowers learners to independently master the content, while developing their metacognitive skills. These are available in print, with a view to them being fully digitised in the near future.

  3. Co-operative Learning Programme:
    By combining the focuses of team-based goals and individual accountability, we harness the power of peer tutoring to create an environment that is motivating for learners to progress through the PRJs. Designed as short weekly sessions, our Co-operative Learning Programme can be run by non-content experts who can focus on building relationships with learners while being guided through the sessions step-by-step.

 In 2012, 50 of the most promising Grade 10 students were chosen from the worst-performing school circuit in the Mpumalanga province for the Learners 4 Excellence (L4E) programme. Screen Shot 2019 04 01 at 160956This three-year Saturday enrichment programme aimed at preparing them for their Grade 12 exams and tertiary studies. Considering that these were some of the best students in the province, they were expected to do reasonably-well in the baseline testing. However, an early version of the Reflective Learning diagnostic tool showed that learners achieved an overall average of only 24%. Some of the learners were performing below Grade 3 level and the majority functioned below Grade 6 level. Not one attained a Grade 9 level.

 Allocated only a single hour of contact time per week, Reflective Learning’s Tracey Butchart used a metacognitive approach to tackle these learning deficits. A combination of carefully crafted foundational lessons delivered along self-developed conceptual threads, personalised daily homework, and sustained self-assessment resulted in students mastering missed concepts and owning their own learning.


There is a constant need to educate people both inside and outside the education system as to why learning gaps develop and that even High School is not too late to address them. We have also had to advocate for “unusual” choices informed by research and on-the-ground experience. For example, our PRJs have been developed first in printed form as reliable internet-connectivity and access to devices for sustained periods of time (enough time is vital for learning Maths) are continued issues despite reported improved penetration rates.

Success Factors:

  • Diagnostics have been run in 5 provinces, across primary and secondary schools, and in two languages (English and Afrikaans).
  • The replication of the initial Learner 4 Excellence programme results in a highly scalable manner. Learners improved, on average, by 1.5 grade levels within the space of four months.


Within a single year, learners were able to catch-up between three and six grades worth of work! After continuing with the rest of the programme, 98% of learners passed matric Mathematics with 9% receiving distinctions and one learner being amongst the top ten in the province. These results demonstrate that Grade 10 is not too late for learners to catch up missed concepts and that a targeted, metacognitive approach can accelerate learning.

Reflective Learning was created to develop scalable tools so that this approach and the results may be replicated for many more learners. The improvements made in such a short period show that learning deficits acquired in a poorly functioning education system can actually be overcome with a self-diagnostic, reflective and metacognitively activated approach. Achievement in all conceptual threads more than doubled and projections indicate that within a two year intervention, even with just one-hour per week contact time, acquired learning deficits in all conceptual threads could even be eliminated.


Screen Shot 2019 04 01 at 161031We are constantly learning how to improve what we do. After successfully digitising the previously pen-and-paper diagnostic and testing it across a range of South African contexts, we learnt that identifying the problem was not enough. Despite the plethora of educational content, nothing exists that cuts across grade levels, is streamlined for catching up missed concepts, and focuses on building metacognitive skills. As such, we have embarked on developing this content internally. To meet the need of implementing on scale, we developed our Co-operative Learning Programme.

We recognise the need to partner with other educational stakeholders also (such as individual parents and schools) and as such have created avenues for this. We have also had adult-focused projects recognise the need for numerical ability in their beneficiaries and started engaging with multiple projects around this.

Lessons Learnt

  • In order to ensure that quality is not compromised in scaling up, articulate all the considerations that you may have taken for granted or considered obvious.
  • Document decisions taken in the early stages of the project, even if they are intuitive, as this decision-making may underpin effective replication of quality.
  • Don’t be pressurised into scaling or replicating before you are ready or at a rate with which you are not comfortable – take the time, and humility, to understand the different types of client journeys thoroughly.
  • Interrogate what form of scaling your project want to pursue – scaling deep in terms of the offering or wide in terms of the number of users. Let that determine the pace, what you say “no” to and with who you partner.

Future plans

In the next 2 years we hope:

  • To conduct more than 300 000 assessments.
  • To fully develop a personalised learning journey that has been pedagogically-proven To help learners narrow their learning gaps.
  • To develop a diagnostic assessment for Physical Science.
  • To have at least one international collaboration.

Further Reading

Tags: Case Study Maths and Science