Officially more letters after my name than in it!

Today I heard that I’ve been successful in claiming ALDinHE’s new Certified Leading Practitioner status. I’m absolutely thrilled and very proud to be one of the first ones to go through the scheme – and can’t wait to be part of a growing community of LDers who have won professional recognition for their work in such a fascinating, complex, and very skilled role!

This is particularly meaningful to me because, as I’ve argued on this blog, I see LD as being a very distinct role. Proud as I am of my SFHEA, that fellowship values my role in as far as I am a teacher, and that descriptor doesn’t quite cover my identity as a learning developer. I’m as much a coach, a counsellor, a mentor, as a teacher. I’m all of those things and none of them. I’m a learning developer.  There are whole areas of that role that don’t quite fit under the UKPSF and til now, weren’t acknowledged anywhere. This was brought home to me when I tried to take a short cut and rejig my SFHEA application for CELP, but it just had to be totally rewritten! It was worth it though to include the ‘offcuts’ from my HEA fellowship, that I hadn’t been able to find a place for.

I have also argued here that LD is a very skilled role, and now ALDinHE has a certification scheme, it’s a major step on the way to recognition of our professional status outside the community. This is so important, given that very often, it’s non-learning developers who write our job descriptions and recruit us. Within the community, in terms of CPD, it gives us something to aim for, standards to achieve, a shared understanding of what an LDer is and does, which is useful in a profession which currently has no single entry route, and a diversity of job titles and working environments.

Anyway, I’m massively grateful to my colleagues in the ALDinHE Professional Development Working Group and the Steering Group, particularly Steve Briggs whose brainchild this scheme is, and who has worked so hard to bring it about!

Off to celebrate and welcome those extra 4 letters after my name!

Helen Michelle Webster

BA (Hons), MA, DPhil, PGCE, SFHEA and…. CELP!


Ethics in Learning Development

Just how much damage could I do…?

Alright, so no one’s going to die if by accident or design, I don’t do my job properly. Much as I’m committed to my work as terribly meaningful and important, there’s a limit to the harm I could cause.

And yet… just as a thought experiment, let’s imagine Evil Me as a Learning Developer. Imagine, through mischief, neglect or pure ill will, what havoc I could wreak in my job….

  • I could deliberately or accidentally get a student accused of academic misconduct…
  • I could make a student fail their assignment, module or degree by giving misleading advice…
  • I could ghostwrite essays for students…and teach them how not to get caught
  • I could spuriously convince a student that they must be  dyslexic/autistic/ abnormal/mentally unwell…and that I could help
  • I could offer preferential treatment or withhold provision, in exchange for “favours” or to punish…
  • I could ask them prurient questions which have nothing to do with helping them with their studies to satisfy my salacious curiosity…
  • I could convince a student that they are stupid, hopeless and will fail…
  • I could lead them to believe that I’m a subject expert to indulge my fantasies of academic respectability…

And that’s just off the top of my head. Actually, there’s quite a bit of damage I could do.

There’s lots of ways in which I could just not be doing my job properly. And that’s common to any job – not doing the work agreed in exchange for the payment offered. What makes a professional job, however, is the particular role and function we occupy. As professionals, we profess to have specialist expertise that the lay person does not, but which they need us to exercise on their behalf. This expertise, this knowledge base, skillset and practice,  gives us authority and a measure of power over those we work with. They trust us to do…whatever mysterious thing that we do, and act in their interests. They don’t necessarily need or want to know what it is beyond the broadest sense. They may not even know enough to know if we aren’t doing our job properly. The more abstract a profession is, the more this is true. And this opens up the possibility of abuse or neglect of that power and that trust. We have greater potential to do harm. This is why professions have values, ethics and codes of conduct, and professional bodies to set standards and enforce them. It’s a moral imperative.

Ethics aren’t the same as values. Values inform us as to how to do our job well. Ethics prevent us from doing actual harm. There are ethics common to all professions, things like transparency, accountability, respect, duty of care, not abusing your status for personal gain, not sleeping with your patients/students….  They basically guard against three main things: neglect, abuse of power and exploitation, and grandiosely misrepresenting what you can do.

As people who see themselves as ‘professional’ in the most everyday sense, we learning developers will each our own individual ethical code, things which we set ourselves as standards or which are for us beyond the pale. What makes professional ethics so powerful though are that they are commonly held by a professional community, represented and articulated by a professional body. This means that there is consistency and therefore transparency for the lay people we work with, and an element of policing, whether it’s just a shared sense of ‘that’s not how we do things, that’s not on’ or in some professions, being struck off.

Does Learning Development need a code of conduct, a statement of its ethics? I’d certainly argue that we can do harm. To our students, the academic community and – as we gain recognition as a community of practice, to our own and each others’ reputations. This potential for harm is specific to and derives from our expertise as learning developers. It may be that the generic professional ethics cover us, or it may be that the kinds of harm we could do might merit a specific LD code of conduct. I can’t see the LD police striking anyone off, but it would be interesting to see if as a community we could agree on what our ethics should be. And if we want to be taken seriously, just as professional as counsellors, doctors, lawyers, then a code of conduct is one of the defining traits of a profession.



Learning Developer as Therapist?

There was recently a very interesting discussion on the LDHEN list about the role of Learning Development in shaping the university as a therapeutic community. I was interested in the word ‘therapeutic’ as it relates to Learning Development, and my contributions were largely about whether what we do could be construed as therapy, given that we sometimes work in similar ways to therapists such as counsellors. I pursued this line of thinking further offline, in discussion with other colleagues but also with my family members, who are clinical psychologists and social workers and very insightful on the topic. This was really useful in helping me further articulate what I think LD is, and where the boundaries are. I’ve reproduced some of my comments on the email list here together with the further thoughts from discussions with my family and colleagues.

I don’t think Learning Development is a therapeutic activity. For me, therapy is a healing activity – very worthwhile, but to speak of learning development as therapy therefore  implies that the student is unwell and needs to be brought to health, is disordered, and needs to be helped to good order, is abnormal and needs to be brought to normality. Learning development, on the other hand, I think, accepts that learning is by its very nature challenging, destabilising, unsettling, ‘troublesome’. Learning is more than just accumulating more facts. To learn something is to integrate new knowledge with old and reconstitute it, not just to add it, to challenge your worldview, to unlearn what you thought you knew and see it differently, to transform yourself. That moment when the lightbulb goes on and shows you the world you thought you knew in a whole different way, and everything’s changed! To experience this, you need to take risks, make mistakes, push beyond into the unknown, let go of certainties and security. We’re talking threshold concepts here, which in themselves are neutral. Students can have very strong feelings about them, though, and these feelings can be positive or negative: wonder, exhilaration, joy, or frustration, discomfort, anxiety.

As Learning Developers we do help students explore their feelings around learning, which are bound to be strong if they are really engaged and learning deeply. But I think to call this therapy implies that the feelings that come with learning are in some way problematic instead of a perfectly natural and inevitable part of the process. Or that only the positive feelings are appropriate, and the negative ones are abnormal or not a healthy response. Learning can be therapeutic, certainly; but that’s incidental and down to the individual, rather than the aim that we as professionals are trying to achieve. Learning can also be stressful by its very nature. Helping students address the feelings that learning necessarily gives rise to is part of our role. But it’s not therapy.

Where the problem arises is that due to various political agendas, universities have become a very unsafe place to experience this unsettling, troublesome activity of learning. None of this – the employability agenda, fees and student debt, the examination regime in schools, the economic climate, the commodification of HE, has really got anything to do with actual learning and in fact is profoundly unhelpful. How can students feel secure enough to take risks, explore the unknown, make mistakes in this environment? How can they, when the environment itself is so unsafe? How can they learn in such a culture? The rise in students reporting mental health issues and stress, and the pressure that we can see they are under, has led to a more problematic range of emotional issues arising in our work, and it’s no wonder. It’s heartbreaking to see, and we naturally want to help.

Where to draw the line? If something is impacting on a student’s learning, then it is my job to listen carefully to that, to take it into account in the guidance I offer, and to refer if needed. One of the Five Ps of Learning Development which I outlined in a previous post is Pertinent Factors – anything we should be aware of that is impacting on learning. But we aren’t counsellors and for individual students, I can’t support  mental health issues or other things that impact on their ability to learn. I can take them into account in my work, but I can’t help resolve them. Sometimes an individual has so much going on in their lives that the upheaval of university isn’t a good thing to add to the mix at that time. And there comes a point when a person is so distressed that learning ain’t going to happen, and further LD work isn’t possible at that time.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs might be helpful here.


I’d say that Learning Development addresses the top two levels – we can help build confidence in learning and we can help them realise their potential as learners. Sometimes there is another level above Self-actualisation: Transcendence, or the need to help others achieve self-actualisation. Not only does this drive us as Learning Developers, but it also applies to the peer mentors we support and the group interactions in our workshops as students work together. But those levels of need aren’t possible unless the lower ones have been met; if a student is feeling hungry, ill, unsafe, unloved, then learning isn’t going to go well. I can’t help with the lower levels, but there are professions dedicated to each to which I can refer (Counselling. The Police. The Doctor. The University Canteen…) and I can help the student in making the decision to seek appropriate help.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t care, that I won’t listen sympathetically. But I have to be very clear with the student and myself that this isn’t therapy – it’s not going to help them therapeutically. Given that they are interacting with me in a professional capacity, they may have false assumptions or expectations about what this professional encounter can achieve. And I might feel awful for them and really want to do something to help (or secretly feel that helping them meets my own social and esteem needs of  feeling good about myself). But that’s not my particular professional role or my expertise and the most helpful thing I can do is to refer.

Trying to help might be actively counterproductive. Allowing them to talk to me may be distracting them from seeking real help. Why go to counselling when I’m such a sympathetic ear? In holding onto the issue, I’m blocking them from better avenues of support. And what if they won’t seek appropriate professional help? If they were sick, but wouldn’t go to the doctor, then I would still not be justified in giving medical advice or medication; if they won’t seek counselling or their personal tutor, I really shouldn’t be offering a placebo either. It might sound harsh, but we need to feel able to say ‘that’s not my job, I can’t help’. We don’t mean it in a jobsworth way, it’s not that we can’t be bothered or don’t care,  but we need to accept, and help the student to accept, that we don’t have the expertise. We can’t be what the student needs, and won’t really be helping if we try. But we do know someone who can help and signpost them there.

I can’t do therapy, I can’t heal, and learning isn’t something to be healed anyway. But I can fight for a university community which does its best to create a safe place to experience the unsettlingness of learning in a compassionate way, which is as inclusive and diverse as possible, remembering that its whole purpose is to help students learn and to assess that learning, and try to fight against the whole culture that counteracts learning. In the meantime, what I can do to help is to familiarise myself with the sources of support in the university (and to some extent beyond) who can help them, and learn how to refer effectively. I’ve done Mental Health First Aid, I’ve looked at resources such as the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust, I’ve been over to Student Services so I can physically see how it works and how a student would navigate it, and I’ve made sure to speak to colleagues in other services in the university about how and when to refer, so I can do so in a supportive, effective way rather than just waving a distressed student off to more pillars and posts.

The many hats of a Learning Developer

Learning Development’s a varied job- we’re never bored! Every hour could bring a different student, studying a different discipline with a different need. And, I’d argue, we too are different each hour in response.  

I’ve addressed the question of what is a learning developer from various angles, but this time I’d like to look at how we’re more than just one thing. In our work, we play a number of roles, and wear a number of hats, depending on what suits the circumstances.  At the ALDinHE Regional Development day at Newcastle University back in January, and again at a meeting of National Teaching Fellows in LD hosted by Sally Brown and Giskin Day at Imperial College, I encouraged participants to explore this diversity with an activity which looked at their responses to a number of roles. I distributed a number of cards, each with a different hat on. Those hats each had a different label: Teacher. Trainer. Coach. Mentor. Critical Friend. Adviser. Tutor. And so on. There were about 15 hats in all- I’m sure there could be more. 

I asked the participants to discuss each of the roles- how they reacted to those terms, what the distinctions between the roles were, which they felt were a good fit for Learning Developers, which could be adapted to fit us, and which don’t really suit us so much. They were then arranged into a hierarchy. The diversity of the discussion in itself demonstrated that there’s no single core identity, and that we feel that a number of roles might apply to us. Some of us might feel more drawn to certain roles due to our previous professional backgrounds – some felt that ‘teacher’ suited them best, others that ‘guide’ or ‘critical friend’ was a better fit. But there was general agreement that no one of those roles encompassed all of LD work. 

I feel that a good learning developer consciously occupies different roles in their work according to the varying need. Sometimes we are teachers- we have knowledge that the students don’t, and our role is to impart it to them. Sometimes we are coaches – it’s the students themselves have the knowledge of their own subject and their own practice, and our role is to facilitate their reflection on that. Sometimes we’re guides, exploring new territory alongside the student. Sometimes we’re just sounding boards. Each role comes with a different set of strategies to help develop the student’s learning, and each might be appropriate or inappropriate in different circumstances. 

There is therefore not a heirarchy but a spectrum of roles which runs from something akin to a teacher at one end, to something which is more like a counsellor at the other, and at each end, it’s rooted in where knowledge lies – knowledge and the agency that goes with it.  

At one end of this spectrum, the knowledge lies with us. It might be knowledge of pedagogy – what marking criteria mean, how people learn, what plagiarism is, technical aspects of grammar – which the student does not possess. We determine and impart what the student needs to know. In these circumstances, we wear our Teacher hats, and use strategies appropriate to this role. On another occasion, a student might want our feedback on how a draft is reading, whether a dissertation proposal makes sense, or how well their presentation style comes across, in which case we don’t need to impart knowledge, we need to become mentors, modelling good practice, sharing our views and experience as senior peers. In other cases, a student might want advice on how to manage their time, or be confident which essay question to choose, which revision strategies might work best, or how to get better marks in their engineering report writing. In these cases, we don’t have the answers at all – and this is because this expertise actually resides with the student – they know themselves best, they’ve read more engineering reports than we have! We put our coaching hat on, asking questions to help them come to their own conclusions from their tacit knowledge. And sometimes – rarely, but just sometimes, we just listen. Like a counsellor, we use active listening, mirroring and silence as the student simply talks themselves into their own decisions or understanding, with the odd ‘uh huh’ or ‘right’ from us. 

Being a learning developer is having a range of hats to wear, and knowing the right occasion to bring them out.  

The Core of Learning Development

The Community Keynote at ALDinHE this year looked at gathering views on the professionalization and accreditation of Learning Development work. I found it a very stimulating debate, and one that needs to happen, even if it brings to light some uncomfortable tensions. There was quite a diversity of opinion and some strong feelings, which is inevitable when you consider that one of Learning Development’s strengths is the sheer range of different backgrounds and skillsets we come from and the contexts we practice in. The Professional Development Working Group’s plans aim to foster and celebrate that diversity – we each bring parts of the jigsaw to our work, and the PDWG’s aim is to celebrate that, accredit what we each bring and help us collect the other jigsaw pieces to complete the picture.

However, with this diversity raises the question yet again of what is a learning developer? I was recently asked to come up with a definition, and it’s a real challenge. If you understand the term in its broadest and most inclusive sense, you end up with ‘Learning Development’ as a fancy synonym for teaching; after all, isn’t anyone who works in education “developing learning”? But that would leave us with a professional body and conference whose remit is so watered down that it serves no useful purpose. Learning Development is a specific role and deserves to be recognised and supported.

So what’s at the core of learning development? We work in such varied contexts that any attempt to pin down what a learning developer is, is going to run into trouble. Perhaps we can then establish a core meaning which is meaningful enough to mark out our role distinctly from anyone who generally ‘develops learning’, but also has a number of variables which doesn’t exclude those of us who work in varied, occasionally diametrically opposed, contexts.

So: if I might propose a core definition of Learning Development, as inclusive yet as distinctive as I can make it:

  • We are student-facing. We are the flipside of educational development (a profession which seems to have got past this phase of self-determination), who are staff-facing. We may take on some educational development function in the course of our work as LDers, and this makes perfect sense as it is the flipside of the coin, but staff-facing work does not define Learning Development as it does Educational Development (as represented by SEDA).
  • We are outside the subject curriculum – it is not our curriculum. We do not impart and assess a body of subject knowledge;  we help students to develop their own skills and understanding of learning in a way that works for the individual student in the context of their studies. We may work within the curriculum in embedding what we do in the disciplines, but they aren’t our discipline (even if we do happen to have a degree in that subject, that isn’t the capacity in which we’re acting on this occasion).
  • Our remit is study skills (we hate that term, but it’s hard to find an alternative which has any common currency!). In some cases these may be defined slightly more narrowly as those study skills associated directly with writing, largely as this is the medium in which learning manifests and is assessed, or more broadly as those which encompass the other parts of the process which may result in or impact on study such as reading or time management. Largely this can be summed up as academic literacies and assessment literacies, with some ‘soft skills’. There may be some crossover into information literacies or digital literacies.
  • The activities we engage in are one to one work, workshops and creating resources. Each practitioner may have a different balance depending on their career stage, institutional context, and the make up of the rest of their team. Some more senior LDers may be taking on a heavier workshop load and may be doing little to no one to one work – or a learning development team may allocate these activities to different team members. Others may be working on projects and mostly or exclusively doing online resource development. For some, one-to-one work may be disseminated through Student Mentors (Peer Assisted Learning) rather than directly delivered. But all of these activities are core to LD.
  • Our professional body is ALDinHE. We are members individually or institutionally, and/or are part of the community on the LDHEN list. If we have specialisms, we may also be affliliated to other professional bodies such as BALEAP, CILIP, SEDA, VITAE, SIGMA, ALT, BDA, ETAW etc.

Other roles, such as subject lecturers, educational developers or learning technologists, may incorporate some of these elements into their jobs, but this IS our job.

The variables:

  • Our job titles. As the profession hasn’t yet coalesced and the term we favour, Learning Development, hasn’t attained currency beyond our profession, we’re called whatever our employing university sees fit to call us, and we may not like our job titles much!
  • Our context: we are generally, but not always, located in a central service. This might be student services, alongside counselling, disability support and international student advice, or it may be in an academic division such as the library or learning and teaching, alongside librarians, educational developers or learning technologists. Sometimes, though, we are located in a faculty, like a liaison librarian might be, or within a specific school, though this starts to cross the boundary into subject lecturing and these practitioners may not identify as LDers but as academics.
  • Our status: Generally we are not on academic contracts, but professional support or academic related. Some of us are on academic contracts, with a research remit, however.
  • Our specialisms: Some of us work with all students: in all subjects, at all levels, and from all cohorts – others work with a particular part of the cohort (for example international students, Widening Participation, PhD students or 1st year undergraduates in transition to HE. Some of us may work with all study skills, others may focus on an area such as writing or maths and stats.
  • Our remit beyond the core activities: May include marking work, setting assignments, research, management, staff development, curriculum design, training student PAL leaders, mentors and reps, and many other activities!
  • Our perception of what we do: Learning Developers come from a diverse range of professional backgrounds, qualifications and experiences, and quite naturally have different perspectives on how to conceptualise the nature of the role we play and the expertise required to fulfil it.

This is a working definition – its aim is not to exclude anyone who identifies as a learning developer and I am sure there are aspects I have overlooked! My aim is to start to develop a meaningful way to identify a discrete role, ‘Learning Development’, within Higher Education and I would very much welcome feedback and challenges to help me refine this definition further. My fear is that unless we do so, unless we clearly carve out the particular niche we occupy, then the distinct, highly skilled and valuable contribution we make becomes invisible and we become very vulnerable to losing status, losing the rationale for our work, and even losing our jobs!

#Take5 #19: Learning Development – the best values?

Many thanks to Sandra for inviting me to blog for her!

Newcastle’s Learning Development Values Document: Standards Values and Principles

Take 5

For this #Take5 we have we have invited Helen Webster from Newcastle University to blog about Learning Development values. This is in honour of our ALDinHE Conference, 10-12 April, University of Hull:, and follows her recent interesting discussion on the LDHEN list.  So – thank you Helen! Everybody else – do leave a comment – pass the post on – have a great Conference … and think about offering your own blogpost very soon!

The Value(s) of Learning Development

What are professional values? I remember when I was doing my teacher training that values didn’t really get much attention in amongst all the complex abstract education theory we were learning. They definitely seemed a bit ‘fluffy’ and irrelevant amidst the practicalities of my early teaching placements. I wasn’t very sure what a value was, let alone what my own values as a teacher were. It’s only later in…

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What is a Learning Developer?

‘I’m a Learning Developer’.

It’s not easy explaining what you do. Friends and acquaintances will gain only a hazy idea from this term, teachers and lecturers may feel that they, too, develop learning, don’t they? and colleagues in other student services such as English for Academic Purposes or Librarians may be on the defensive, as you describe in more detail what you offer: ‘but we teach that!’.

I’m fascinated by and enjoy interprofessional working – I love finding out how other colleagues work and how they conceptualise what they do – those glimpses into the arcane knowledge of another profession. Since Learning Development in large part arose from those professions – counselling, disability support, English for Academic Purposes, librarian information literacy teaching, subject teaching – it’s hard to situate what we do as distinct, which can muddy waters for staff and students, and lead to tensions in interprofessional working.

But I think it is distinct. My gut reaction is that what I do as a Learning Developer is different to what I did when I was a subject lecturer who took an interest in developing my students’ study skills alongside their discipline knowledge. It’s different from the approach I observe in other professions even when they’re teaching topics which ostensibly also fall on ‘our patch’, such as writing or referencing. My view is that these approaches and the different professional perspectives that they emerge from are valuable, complementary and holistic, and the more we work together and understand what we can each bring, the better. However, to really make the best use of this collaboration, we need to have a clearer articulation of what each role brings. If we reduce it, discipline-style, to study skills topics, and carve it up between us as a curriculum, we’re going to lose so much. Better, I think, to try to capture what it is about the approach characteristic of a Learning Developer, alongside those of other professions, so we can see what lens each brings to bear on our shared central goal of helping our students learn effectively.

For me, Learning Development is what can occur in the space which opens up when we step away from formal assessment. I’ve been a subject teacher- albeit one very interested in developing her students’ study skills, but when I took on a learning development role outside subject teaching, even when discussing the same study skills, often with students from the same discipline as my former one, I realised that students were interacting with me differently, we were able to achieve something a little bit different that I couldn’t have done in my former role.

For me, the key difference was this: students knew I wasn’t formally assessing them. I wasn’t giving them grades or marks, passes or fails; telling them what was correct and what was incorrect. I was simply working with them to explore their learning, not my subject discipline. I was encouraging them to explore their own goals and standards, not meet mine. I didn’t hold the curriculum; the students held the agenda. Learning development is intrinsically non-judgemental. As a subject lecturer, my teaching was by definition judgemental (in the most supportive and well-intentioned way!). We do assess as Learning Developers, of course, all the time – it’s one of our tools to see if students’ learning is developing, to gauge their progress and the effectiveness of the strategies they’re using, but this is formative, informal and ungraded. We’re also an outsider to the discipline. We don’t prescribe, we help students describe what they see in their discipline’s study conventions, and make their own decisions based on those observations. We can of course suggest what may be more or less effective, but we’re then acting as mentors, not teachers. It’s not our role to hold the answers, and that can liberate both us and the students.

One to one work with students is, as Murray and Glass (2011) note, central to learning development work. However, I don’t think that this is because one to one tutorials are the definitive format for that work; Learning development isn’t one to one work. Lecturers, pastoral tutors, counsellors, librarians, all see students one to one in some developmental capacity, and we also offer group sessions, online learning, any format that helps us achieve the purpose. Instead, I think one to one work is at the core of Learning Development work as that is the space where we can most clearly step away from formal assessment, outside the long-established norms of the lecture hall, or seminar room, the academic’s office surrounded by their books. Embedded learning development is effective and important, but I think even there, we bring a little of that outside, non-judgemental space with us into that context, and that’s what makes it learning development even when we teach as part of a subject module. That’s what we bring that the subject lecturer can’t.

To me, then, a defining characteristic of the learning developer is that we do not formally mark student work. Learning development is a very loosely defined and diverse role, and many of us are based in faculties, closely involved in subject teaching, indeed may have dual roles as lecturers and learning developers. Many of us who identify as learning developers may then find themselves disagreeing with this definition. I would absolutely not want my understanding of the role to be exclusive or divisive however – that would be completely counterproductive.  I think the resolution of this tension lies in a return to the question, posed by Murray and Glass (2011) of whether we are a community of practice or a profession.

My response is that we are primarily a profession, for reasons I’ll explore in another blog post. A Learning Developer in this sense would be the one I outline above. However, I think learning development can at the same time be a community of practice – the distinct perspective, expertise and skills of the learning developer can of course be adopted and brought to bear by those in other roles to a greater or lesser extent by carefully managing that switching between assessing and non-assessing roles. But when you formally assess, that learning development space is closed off, and it can be tricky to open up again when needed, as you’re changing the relationship you have with the students, from learning developer to lecturer and back. Fully embodying that characteristic non-judgemental value is hard in this circumstance.

Operating outside formal assessment, and as an outsider to the curriculum has opened that space up for me and my students, and the really interesting thing is – I’d say that’s where a great deal of my expertise as a Learning Developer has come from. Students have shared their insights and concerns with me in that space in a way they never felt able to when I was a subject lecturer, and I’ve learned an awful lot from them that my teacher training never gave me access to. That’s a distinct and valuable expertise I can bring to interprofessional work with colleagues in other roles, and enables me to work in a different and characteristically learning development way.


Murray, Linda and Glass, Bob, 2011. ‘Learning Development in Higher Education: Community of Practice or Profession?’ in Peter Hartley, John Hilsdon, Christine Keenan, Sandra Sinfield and Michelle Verity, eds. Learning Development in Higher Education Basingstoke, Palgrave MacMillan. 28-39.

Being a proper professional

EDIT: this post was written while I was working on short term contracts at Cambridge University.

I’m not a librarian, I’m… I’m a learning developer, a teacher, an academic, I’m lots of things. I’m a member of a profession so new that I’m still not sure how to handle that awkward silence at parties when people ask me what I do. I’m also in some ways a rather peripheral member of that profession, as I work at a very old institution, Cambridge University, which does not as yet have any formal learning development provision, so I am piecing together bits of things that together, I hope, allow me to continue developing as a professional in a coherent way, rather than just someone who hoovers up any work going, although with the short-term contracts I’ve been working on, eating and paying the rent is also a concern.

It’s not been all that long either since there has been a professional body for learning developers. It grew organically out of a JISCmail list, LDHEN, and very quickly became ALDinHE, the membership association for anyone who works in learning development in Higher Education. We have an annual conference, regional events, a journal, and of course there is still the very active mailing list at the heart of it. Although a very young body supporting a very young profession, ALDinHE has been an invaluable support in my work as a very young learning developer. It’s one of the friendliest, most active and inclusive groups I’ve been involved with- and I have this on good authority from two librarian colleagues with whom I presented at the ALDinHE conference this year, who both decided that if this was LD, they wanted in!

But it’s still early days for ALDinHE. I recently joined their steering group for professional development, having initially been reluctant as I didn’t feel that my rather precarious and tenuous job situation made me a ‘proper’ Learning Developer. Having rethought this though, I decided that it was people in my position who might really benefit from coherent and formally recognised professional development, as well as those lucky ones who have that title on their permanent job contract… Joining the steering group has been a chance for me to think about what I need from a professional development body, and play a small role in making that happen.
So, what would I like from my professional association? Now’s a good time to get involved and make things happen! ALDinHE’s origins in a JISCmail list and naturally friendly and lovely members means that networking has been a major feature from the start. If I need ideas for a workshop, thoughts about good practice or advice on how to handle a situation, there is no lack of generous colleagues to help out. The conference and journal also help me showcase my work and give me a forum for credible publication.

One thing which would be useful,especially given the often temporary and part-time nature of many of our jobs, is some kind of professional acknowledgement or recognition of my particular expertise, which I can take to universities as part of a job application or appraisal. Its as if without a piece of paper saying “Learning Developer”, then my entitlement to call myself such depends on my job title. I have a PGCE, so I feel I can say I am a teacher; I have a PhD, so I can say I’m an academic or researcher, but my own professional definition at the moment rests with my employer, and whether they recognise my expertise, which at the moment, they don’t. Learning Developers at the moment come from all backgrounds- teaching, EFL, disability support, librarianship, counselling etc etc, and something to tie this together into a coherent profile would be great. It would also allow me to make the case for my employer to pay for further professional development to complete my profile- I’ve always felt that a basic qualification in counselling would be invaluable. I’m not sure what form this accreditation or qualification or whatever would take- perhaps something along the lines of the HEA. Speaking of which *cough* the HEA is another professional body I’ve been meaning to get around to joining. I had a summer job once, phoning round universities to ‘sell’ the ILT (now the HEA), and believe me, I know the advantages- I had to reel them off down the phone to sceptical university administrators! I will get around to it, I will. Soon. When I have time….

Joining the ALDinHE steering group for professional development has been a great experience. So now I get the chance to work towards some of the things I’ve been talking about! I’m going to run a version of the 23things programme for them, and have been making extensive notes of my experiences here!