Learning development

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Learning development describes work with students and staff to develop academic practices, with a main focus on students developing academic practices in higher education, which assess the progress of knowledge acquired by the means of structural approaches (Tejero, 2020). Learning developers are academic professionals who: teach, advise and facilitate students to develop their academic practices; create academic development learning resources; and reflect on their own academic practices through a community of practice.

Hilsdon (2011: 14) defines learning development as, "a complex set of multi-disciplinary and cross-disciplinary academic roles and functions, involving teaching, tutoring, research, and the design and production of learning materials, as well as involvement in staff development, policy-making and other consultative activities."[1]

Learning development is a term used mainly within UK and Australian academia, with some overlap with academic advising in the USA. The learning development movement in the UK has aligned itself closely with the UK Educational Development movement[2] in light of its developmental work with academic staff. However, the primary objective of learning development remains the development of student learning.


The learning development movement began with the recognition of a new direction of practice emerging by founding and early members of an email discussion forum Community in 2002, which was transferred to the documented JISCMail Listserv Community LDHEN in 2003.[3] Early members were all involved in the provision of study skills support, but recognised the limitations of a purely study-skills approach.[4]

From 2005 onward, the establishment of the LearnHigher CETL (Centre of Excellence in Teaching and Learning) contributed greatly to the volume of publicly available learning development resources. The LearnHigher CELT was funded by the Higher Education Funding Council and comprised a consortium of teams from 16 universities, led by Liverpool Hope University to develop learning resources in 20 areas of study. LearnHigher aimed to develop and maintain a bank of open access materials for self-access by students. The CETL later referred to their work as learning development.

The LDHEN later restructured and formed the Association of Learning Development in Higher Education (ALDinHE), who published the first peer reviewed journal dedicated to learning development, The Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. This organisation have also organised a themed national conference since 2003 and annually since 2005, contributing greatly to the development of learning development as distinct area of practice. The Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA)have also provided space for ideas in learning development to develop, as have other student-focused organisations and conferences.

Conferences on learning development[edit]

Year Organiser Host institution Theme Keynotes speakers Resource
2017 ALDinHE University of Hull
  • The Impact and Evaluation of Learning Development
  • The Teaching Excellence Framework
  • Assessment and Feedback
  • Collaboration in the Changing Environments
  • Creative Cultures in Learning Development
2016 ALDinHE Heriot-Watt University Professor Dave Hill, Dr Sian Bayne Yes[5]
2015 ALDinHE Southampton Solent University Professor Mick Healey, Celia Whitchurch Yes[6]
2014 ALDinHE Huddersfield University Learning Development Spaces and Places Étienne Wenger, Lesley Gourlay Yes[7]
2013 ALDinHE Plymouth University Celebrating learning development Dave Cormier, Les Ebdon, Stella Cottrell Yes[8]
2012 ALDinHE Leeds University Learning Development in a digital age: emerging literacies and learning spaces Helen Beetham, Paul Andrews, Grainne Conole[9] Yes[10]
2011 ALDinHE Queen's University Engaging Students - Engaging Learning Phil Race, Sally Brown, Becka Colley Yes[11]
2010 ALDinHE Nottingham Trent University Celebrating Partnerships in Learning Marcia Baxter-Magolda, Glynis Cousin Yes[12]
2009 LDHEN Bournemouth University The challenge of learning development Dennis Hayes, Alan Mortiboys No
2008 LDHEN Bradford University Learning Development – Who Needs It? Ray Land No
2007 LDHEN Bournemouth University How do Students Engage with Learning? ?Ronald Barnett No
2006 LDHEN and LearnHigher CETL Liverpool Hope University Excellence in Learning Development - What could it be? No
2005 LDHEN Northumbria University 'Working for Students' Success Steven Rowlands No
2003 LDHEN London Metropolitan University (none) Plenary No

Some observers may identify strong learning development themes in conferences in allied areas, such as Writing Development (e.g. Writing Development in Higher Education (WDHE) conferences and EATAW), Mathematics Support (e.g. the Sigma Network and the CETL-MSOR conferences) or even Educational Development (e.g. SEDA). Likewise, the HEA's What Works? conferences and the Improving Student Learning annual symposiums have strongly tangential themes. However, these organisations/conferences rarely use the term learning development to describe their activities.

Allied areas of practice[edit]

Writing development[edit]

Writing development is administratively subsumed within learning development at a number of UK universities, where practices may be merged locally. However, writing development has rich tradition of research and practice, established before learning development and representing a distinct field.

Information literacy[edit]

Information literacy is sometimes seen as learning development, but also has its own distinct body of practice and literature.

According to the SCONUL Working Group on Information Literacy (2011: 3),[13] Information Literacy is, "an umbrella term which encompasses concepts such as digital, visual and media literacies, academic literacy, information handling, information skills, data curation and data management."

SCONUL's seven pillars of information literacy are:[13]

  • Identify: Able to identify a personal need for information
  • Scope: Can assess current knowledge and identify gaps
  • Plan: Can construct strategies for locating information and data
  • Gather: Can locate and access the information and data they need
  • Evaluate: Can review the research process and compare and evaluate information and data
  • Manage: Can organise information professionally and ethically
  • Present: Can apply the knowledge gained: presenting the results of their research, synthesising new and old information and data to create new knowledge and disseminating it in a variety of ways

Mathematics support[edit]

Learning development in numeracy, mathematics and statistics, commonly referred to as "mathematics support",[14] works with students and staff to develop mathematical practice in the disciplines. Mathematics Support ranges from basic adult numeracy[15] to advanced support for second and third year undergraduate mathematics students.[16] This provision is commonly provided via a mathematics (learning) support centre.[17]

The UK mathematics support movement is seen to have begun in 1993 with a conference held at the University of Luton and was influenced by the Minnesota model of developmental mathematics,[18] and may be considered as a sub-movement, separate and tangential to learning development.[19] A recent survey of mathematics support in the UK identified 88 out of 103 responding higher education institutions offering some form of mathematics support.[20]

Mathematics support centres and services are also present in Australia[21] and the Republic of Ireland.[22] Statistics support for final year undergraduate and postgraduate students is often provided via a statistics advisory service.[23]

Areas of learning development[edit]

Many learning developers resist categorising their practice into distinct subjects. For example, the use of statistics, encouraged by learning development, is cross-disciplinary, however, resources such as study guides are often categorised into distinct subjects. The following areas of learning development are taken from the LearnHigher website

  • Academic writing refers to the practice of writing in the style used in academic documents, such as academic books, journal articles and conference papers. It tends to be formal and objective in tone but it should also be clear and concise.
  • Assessment
  • Business and commercial awareness
  • Critical thinking and reflection. According to Ennis (n.d.),[24] critical thinking involves: being as clear as possible; focusing on a single question or issue; trying to take into account the whole problem; considering all relevant alternatives; trying to be well-informed; seeking as much precision as possible; being aware of your biases and assumptions; being open-minded and taking a position if you have enough basis, or otherwise withholding judgment.

When critical thinking is applied to external sources it is called critical analysis. Critical analysis is sometimes seen as the 'holy grail' of academic writing or a 'rite of passage' for students to become accepted members of their academic community of practice. There are several different approaches to critical analysis: critically analysing a single source using a premise, argument, conclusion, application approach; moving from descriptive writing to analytical writing to evaluative writing; comparing and contrasting two different opinions using a discursive argumentation format; moving from summarising, to making simple inferences, to critiquing according to objective criteria and bringing in a personal interpretation; and using a questioning approach (who, what, where, why, etc.) to brainstorm an issue.

  • Doing research involves identifying a research aim or question, planning, deciding on a theoretical framework, deciding on a method, obtaining information (primary or secondary data or a combination of the two), describing and analysing the data obtained and drawing conclusions.
  • Group work
  • Information literacy
  • Listening and interpersonal skills
  • Note making
  • Numeracy, mathematics and statistics
  • Oral communication
  • Reading
  • Referencing is the process of properly attributing secondary material to the correct authors. It commonly involves citing sources and creating a reference list at the end of a document. Failure to reference correctly can lead to plagiarism.
  • Report writing is similar to academic writing but it relates to more structured documents, such as technical reports and dissertations. These documents normally contain chapters which may be divided into sections or subsections, etc. There is often a specific genre for writing individual chapters within a report.
  • Time management
  • Visual practices

A developmental model[edit]

The learning development movement emphasises learner development from any prior level of ability.[citation needed] This view is generally opposed to study skills that represent remedial education - aiming to bring weaker students up to a set standard.[citation needed] However, accepting that support may be the most developmental approach in some circumstances, study skills remain a feature of learning development..[citation needed]

Provision for strongly performing students and the extent to which a broader base of students should engage with learning development are both currently debated issues..[citation needed]

The characteristics of embedded provision, one-to-one provision and resource provision are each underpinned by the developmental model adopted by learning development.[citation needed]


Teaching with learning objectives is also an effective way of integrating 'learning development' into the curriculum.[25] This characteristic is usually referred to as embedding.

One-to-one provision[edit]

Learning development practices have remained committed to provision one-to-one with academic staff.[26]

Provision of resources[edit]


Research-informed practice in learning development has drawn on various traditions of research. Some key examples are provided below.

Academic literacies[edit]

Transitions into higher education[edit]

The student experience[edit]

Student attainment[edit]

Assessment criteria[edit]

Lea and Street[27] have demonstrated that university staff in various disciplines have varying expectations of students in assignments. Rust et al advocate explicating assessment criteria to augment success not only in the short term, but also to better facilitate learning for the long term.[28] Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick summarise converging literature suggesting that internal feedback and student self-regulation are only possible with a good conception of the criteria.[29] This has prompted learning developers to work centrally to explicate or negotiate assessment criteria. This ranges from resources providing disciplinary definitions of keywords, to one-to-one practice to negotiate student understandings of assessment criteria with reference to assignment drafts.

Linguistics and EAP[edit]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Hilsdon, J. (2011). What is Learning Development? In P. Hartley, J. Hilsdon, C. Keenan, S. Sinfield & M. Verity, eds. Learning Development in Higher Education. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 13-27.
  2. ^ Gosling, D. (2008) Educational Development in the United Kingdom. Heads of Educational Development Group. Available at: http://www.hedg.ac.uk/documents/HEDG_Report_final.pdf[permanent dead link] [Accessed 20 June 2013]
  3. ^ Association for Learning Development in Higher Education (2012) Learning Development in Higher Education Network (LDHEN) [accessed 16/06/13]. Available from http://www.aldinhe.ac.uk/ldhen.html.
  4. ^ Possibly influenced by understandings reflected in Lea, M. & Street, B. (1998) Student Writing in Higher Education: An Academic Literacies Approach, Studies in Higher Education, 29(6), pp. 157-172.
  5. ^ "Aldinhe - Conference 2015". www.aldinhe.ac.uk.
  6. ^ "Aldinhe - Conference 2016". www.aldinhe.ac.uk.
  7. ^ "Aldinhe - Conference 2014". www.aldinhe.ac.uk.
  8. ^ "Aldinhe - Conference 2013". www.aldinhe.ac.uk.
  9. ^ in absentia
  10. ^ "Aldinhe - Conference Report". www.aldinhe.ac.uk.
  11. ^ "8th LDHEN Symposium - "Engaging Students - Engaging Learning"". www.aldinhe.ac.uk.
  12. ^ "7th LDHEN Symposium - "Celebrating Partnerships in Learning"". www.aldinhe.ac.uk.
  13. ^ a b SCONUL Working Group on Information Literacy (2011) The SCONUL Seven Pillars of information literacy: Core model for higher education. [pdf] Available at: http://www.sconul.ac.uk/sites/default/files/documents/coremodel.pdf [Accessed 20 June 2013].
  14. ^ MacGillivray, Helen; Croft, Tony (March 2011), "Understanding evaluation of learning support in mathematics and statistics" (PDF), International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology, 42 (2): 189–212, doi:10.1080/0020739x.2010.519801
  15. ^ Coben, D., Colwell, D., Macrae, S., Boaler, J., Brown, M. and Rhodes, V. (2003) Adult numeracy: Review of research and related literature. London: National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy.
  16. ^ Croft, A. C., and Grove, M. (2006) Mathematics Support: Support for the specialist mathematician and the more able student, MSOR Connections, 6(2), pp. 39-43.
  17. ^ Lawson, D.A., Croft, A.C. and Halpin, M. (2003) Good practice in the provision of mathematics support centres. 2nd edn. Birmingham: LTSN Maths, Stats and OR Network. Available at: http://newukmlsc.lboro.ac.uk/resources/Good%20Practice%20Guide/goodpractice2E.pdf [Accessed: 20 June 2013].
  18. ^ Beveridge, I. (1993) The Minnesota Model of Developmental Maths. Available at: http://www.sigma-cetl.ac.uk/index.php?action=download_resource&id=322&module=resourcesmodule&src=%40random4b8fd8fe5704c [Accessed 20 June 2013].
  19. ^ Samuels, P. C. (2013) Promoting Learning Development as an Academic Discipline, Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, 5, available at: http://www.aldinhe.ac.uk/ojs/index.php?journal=jldhe&page=article&op=view&path%5B%5D=146 [Accessed 20 June 2013].
  20. ^ Perkin, G., Lawson, D. A. & Croft, A. C. (2012) Mathematics learning support in UK Higher Education: the extent of provision in 2012. [pdf] Birmingham: National HE STEM Programme. Available at: http://www.sigma-network.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/MathematicsLearningSupportProvision2012.pdf [Accessed 21 June 2013].
  21. ^ MacGillivray, H. (2008), Learning Support in Mathematics and Statistics in Australian Universities: A Guide for the University Sector, Sydney: Australian Learning and Teaching Council
  22. ^ Gill, O., O’Donoghue, J. and Johnson, P. (2008) An Audit of Mathematical Support Provisions in Irish Third Level Institutes. Limerick: CEMTL, University of Limerick.
  23. ^ Smith, K. and Gadsden, R. (2006) Sigma SAS rescuing projects, In CETL MSOR Conference 2006, Loughborough University (ed. D. Green), pp. 149-154.
  24. ^ Ennis, R. H. (no date) Critical thinking definition and Conceptualization. Available at: http://faculty.ed.uiuc.edu/rhennis/ConceptCT.html [Accessed 21 June 2013].
  25. ^ Wingate, U. (2006). Doing away with ‘study skills’. Teaching in Higher Education, 11(4), 457-469.
  26. ^ Turner, J. (2010) The Case for One-to-One Academic Advice for Students. Hartley, P., Hilsdon, J., Sinfield, S., Keenan, C., & Verity, M. (Eds.). (2010). "Learning development in higher education". Palgrave Macmillan.
  27. ^ Lea, M. & Street, B. (2000)
  28. ^ Rust, P. Price, M. & O’Donovan, B. (2003) Improving students' learning by developing their understanding of assessment criteria and processes. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 28(2), pp147-164.
  29. ^ Nicol, D. J. & Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006) Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: a model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), pp199-218. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 July 2014. Retrieved 14 July 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link) CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)