In the context of an increasingly knowledge-based economy, learning in the academic laboratory allows students to acquire knowledge and skills relevant for a range of academic and non-academic careers, while simultaneously often providing a boost to the laboratory’s research output and impact (Ben-David, 1971; Hoffman, 2011; Mendoza, 2007).

Research demonstrates that laboratory education can be highly valuable for undergraduate students’ learning and development of a broad range of knowledge (generic and specific) and skills (cognitive, affective and psychomotor skills), if appropriate pedagogic principles (i.e. active learning and research-based education) are applied (Abdulwahed & Nagy, 2009; Bretz, Fay, Bruck, & Towns, 2013; Sokoloff, Laws, & Thornton, 2007; Russell & Weaver, 2010; Teo, Tan, Yaw, Teo, & Yeo, 2014). We therefore encourage you to think broadly about the kinds of learning and understanding that your students might experience or develop when in the laboratory.

Tools to evaluate student learning in the laboratory

The Meaningful Learning in the Laboratory Instrument (MLLI) was developed by Galloway and Bretz (2015). Grounded on Novak’s (1993; 2010) constructivist theory of ‘meaningful learning’, the MLLI has been applied in various international contexts (Galloway & Bretz, 2015; George-Williams, et al., 2019). We have provided a full downloadable pre-course and post-course version of the MLLI at the top of this page (slightly adapted), which you can use to measure a change in your students’ learning over time. Note that the original focus was the chemistry laboratory, but it is likely to be applicable to other disciplinary contexts. However, it is advisable to consider whether every item is appropriate for your context.

In addition, you could also apply some tools from the more general ‘Learning and Understanding’ pages to the laboratory context. For example, Russell and Weaver (2010) developed an interview protocol for their study on laboratory learning which was based on the broader literature on students’ ‘Views of Nature of Science’ (VNOS)   (Abd-El-Khalick & Lederman, 2000; Lederman, Abd-El-Khalick, Bell, & Schwartz, 2002).


Abd-El-Khalick, F., & Lederman, N. G. (2000). The Infuence of History of Science Courses on Students' Views of Nature of Science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 37(10), 1057-1095.

Abdulwahed, M., & Nagy, Z. K. (2009). Applying Kolb's Experiential Learning Cycle for Laboratory Education. Journal of Engineering Education, 98(3), 283-294.

Ben-David, J. (1971). The scientist's role in society: a comparative study. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.

Bretz, S. L., Fay, M., Bruck, L. B., & Towns, M. H. (2013). What Faculty Interviews Reveal about Meaningful Learning in the Undergraduate Chemistry Laboratory. Journal of Chemical Education, 90, 281-288. doi:10.1021/ed300384r

Galloway, K. R., & Bretz, S. L. (2015). Development of an Assessment Tool to Measure Students' Meaningful Learning in the Undergraduate Chemistry Laboratory. Journal of Chemical Eduation, 92, 1149−1158. doi:10.1021/ed500881y

Galloway, K. R., & Bretz, S. L. (2015). Measuring Meaningful Learning in the Undergraduate Chemistry Laboratory: A National, Cross-Sectional Study. Journal of Chemical Education, 92, 2006-2018.

George-Williams, S. R., Karis, D., Ziebell, A. L., Kitson, R. R., Coppo, P., Schmid, S., . . . Overton, T. L. (2019). Investigating student and staff perceptions of students' experiences in teacing laboratories through the lens of meaningful learning. Chemistry Education Research and Practice, 20, 187-196.

Hoffman, S. G. (2011). The new tools of the science trade: contested knowledge production and the conceptual vocabularies of academic capitalism. Social Anthropology, 19(4), 439-462.

Lederman, N. G., Abd-El-Khalick, F., Bell, R. L., & Schwartz, R. S. (2002). Views of Nature of Science Questionnaire: Toward Valid and Meaningful Assessment of Learners’ Conceptions of Nature of Science. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 39(6), 497-521.

Mendoza, P. (2007). Academic Capitalism and Doctoral Student Socialization: A Case Study. The Journal of Higher Education, 78(1), 71-96.

Novak, J. D. (1993). Human Constructivism: A Unification of Psycyhological and Epistemological Phenomena in Meaning Making. Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 6, 167-193.

Novak, J. D. (2010). Learning, Creating, and Using Knowledge. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.

Russell, C. B., & Weaver, G. C. (2010). A comparative study of traditional, inquiry-based, and research-based laboratory curricula: impacts on understanding of the nature of science. Chemistry Education Research and Practice, 12, 57–67. doi:10.1039/C1RP90008K

Sokoloff, D. R., Laws, P. W., & Thornton, R. K. (2007). RealTime Physics: active learning labs transforming the introductory laboratory. European Journal of Physics, 28, S83-S94.

Teo, T. W., Tan, K. C., Yaw, K. Y., Teo, Y. C., & Yeo, L. W. (2014). How flip teaching supports undergraduate laboratory learning. Chemistry Education Research and Practice, 15, 550-567. doi:10.1039/c4rp00003j