What is learning development?

by Carina Buckley, PhD PFHEA CeLP

Learning development is an ethos as much as a practice

Learning development was born, as much as a pedagogic approach can be, out of conversation and collaboration, that coalesced a set of practices and a common understanding – or ambition – for what learning in higher education could and should be.

As one of Celia Whitchurch’s ‘third space professionals’ (2008), learning developers are student-focused, working side by side with them to make sense of the discourses and often obscure or arcane requirements of higher education. We sit in the centre of a sometimes-uncomfortable Venn diagram, mediating between the student, the lecturer and academia as a whole to ensure that every student can achieve their potential, as unhindered as possible by structural and social obstacles.

Its multidisciplinary nature is reinforced and supported by the many pathways taken into the profession – and indeed, ‘profession’ is a term its practitioners are still getting used to. Without a standard job description or job title, and straddling every permutation of institutional structuring, it is a role that attracts those happy to work not outside a subject but across every subject; those who can see the big picture as well as support the fine detail; and those who can speak the language of academia and translate it effectively.

Given that learning development involves the development of student learning, and therefore involves a whole range of activities such as tutoring, advising, research, resource design and production and even staff development and policy, it is values-driven rather than defined by job roles and responsibilities. The five values that shape the Association for Learning Development in Higher Education (ALDinHE) were themselves derived through community discussion and collaboration:

  • Working alongside students to make sense of and get the most out of HE learning
  • Making HE inclusive through emancipatory practice, partnership working and collaboration
  • Adopting and sharing effective Learning Development practice with (and external to) our own institutions
  • Critical self-reflection, on-going learning and a commitment to professional development
  • Commitment to a scholarly approach and research related to Learning Development.

It is one of the paradoxes of learning development that as we strive for recognition as a profession, so do we also wish to open it up to everyone and anyone who subscribes to and works within these values. Learning development is an ethos, and it is one we can all share.


Whitchurch, C. 2008. Shifting identities and blurring boundaries: The emergence of Third Space professionals in UK higher education. Higher Education Quarterly 62(4), 377-396 

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