The Society for Research into Higher Education

A new approach to the assessment of learning outcomes in Japanese Universities

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by Toru Hayashi

In recent years Japanese universities have faced unprecedented demands for developing student learning and have rapidly reformed courses to introduce active learning and practical internships. The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology-Japan (MEXT) states that: ‘Amid the rapidly changing circumstances at home and abroad surrounding universities, expectations and demands towards universities, such as the development of cultured human resources with deeply specialized knowledge, and contributions to solution of various kinds of social issues, have become enlarged and diverse.’ Universities have a responsibility to assess student learning and to make student achievement more explicit through visualisation of learning outcomes. Assessing key competencies and student engagement will become more and more important, which has led most Japanese universities to establish learning outcomes analysis.

In 2014 the Ministry (MEXT) introduced a higher education rebuilding programme, the “Acceleration Programme for University Education Rebuilding” (AP). Yamaguchi University won Japanese government funding support for a 6-year project, Acceleration Program of Education Rebuilding, from 2015 to 2020. Our main objective is to provide maximum support for the improvement of active learning and the visualisation of learning outcomes. We have tried to measure the competency gain related to the experience of active learning, and the effectiveness of student self-directed learning in helping students achieve diploma qualifications. A series of case studies has led us to suggest that an assessment model which combines direct and indirect measures works best as authentic assessment for student learning.

Our research project has completed a comparative survey of educational development between Japan and US from 2014 to 2016. Our survey of all Japanese universities achieved a 50% response rate. Comparing our results with US survey data, we found many of the same features in Educational Development in both countries. Most Japanese Universities are eager to introduce active learning and reform curricula and courses to align them better with university and government educational policies. Some American Universities pay particular attention to individual teaching consultation and web-based instructional resources; our research project members are very interested in results which suggest that Japanese Universities have more tasks around student learning assessment compared with American Universities.

We have not yet developed useful evidence for the educational effects of active learning. Therefore, we are very interested in developing a combination of direct and indirect measures for authentic assessment. Direct measures are those which directly assess the achievement of individual students. Indirect measures are such things as evaluation of the rubric (curriculum and course objectives). A combination of direct and indirect measures enables us to comprehend educational effects, learning achievement and student engagement. We have a range of approaches for assessing learning outcomes. The first dimension covers direct measures – tests, assignments etc. – and indirect measures – rubrics, course evaluation etc. The second dimension covers the scope of organizational purposes at course level, program level and institutional level at the time of adopting direct and indirect measures.

Active learning comes through both curricular and extracurricular education. To visualise learning outcomes we look at learning achievement, literacy, competency, learning behavior, and learning engagement. Our research shows how to gather educational data from assessment systems in these areas and suggests how the data can be applied for student self-reflection and for academic advising. To this end we have developed a new system, “Active Learning Point (AL Point)”, for the promotion of active learning, which combines direct and indirect measures to achieve the best possible assessment of learning outcomes.

SRHE member Toru Hayashi is Associate Professor in the Centre for the Promotion of Higher Education at Yamaguchi University. This blog post is based on the paper he gave at the 2017 SRHE Newer Researchers Conference.


Center for the Promotion of Higher Education, Yamaguchi University (2017).  Yamaguchi University Acceleration Program for University Education Rebuilding (YU-AP) Annual Report 2016

Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology-Japan (MEXT) Website:

Middle States Commission on Higher Education (2007) Student learning assessment Options and resources (2nd ed)

Beach, A. Sorcinelli, M.D., Austin, A.. Rivard, J. (2016). Faculty development in the age of evidence. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Author: SRHE News Blog

An international learned society, concerned with supporting research and researchers into Higher Education

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