Special issue


Learning Development is a field of practice concerned with supporting students to develop their study skills, including academic and assessment literacies. It is strongly rooted in values that are student-centred, collaborative and emancipatory rather than remedial or deficit. However, in the wider dominant culture of UK HE institutions, Learning Developers are often placed in an implicitly hierarchical relationship with students, "giving advice and guidance", at odds with these values. Without a clear model for practice to help them enact their values in a student-centred and dialogic way, Learning Developers may risk pathologizing the student, depriving them of agency and expertise, in an overly prescriptive and instrumental approach to skills development. This paper explores formulation, a core skill in Clinical Psychology, and its applicability in Learning Development. Formulation is a method of integrating theory and practice, clinical expertise with the client’s own experience and insight, through its meaning to the client. With a focus on equality, person-centred practice and co-created meaning, it is well aligned to Learning Development values. This paper examines how formulation can be adapted for Learning Development one-to-one work and other forms of provision, and proposes a practical model, the Five Ps of LD, which integrates multiple perspectives with longitudinal, cross-sectional and socio-cultural factors into a holistic shared understanding of the Learning Development need.

Practitioner Notes

  1. As a values-driven profession, Learning Development (as practised in the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand) has much to offer skills development in the post-pandemic, inclusive university, but needs to develop concrete models for practice to fulfil this potential.
  2. Without such models, Learning Developers' practice risks becoming remedial, deficit and instrumental, pathologizing students and removing their agency, rather than enacting the student-centred, empowering values that Learning Developers espouse.
  3. Formulation allows Learning Developers to bring together the expertise of the practitioner with the experience of the student in a dialogue which promotes genuinely student-centred skills development guidance.
  4. The 5 Ps of LD proposed here offer holistic points of access into an academic skills development issue, around which a dialogue can be framed, integrating student and practitioner perspectives on equal terms.
  5. The 5 Ps of LD approach can be implemented in one-to-one, small group, workshop and online resource contexts, and is also of relevance to other roles involved in skills development, such as Personal Tutors, Peer Mentors, Disability Advisers, Counsellors or Librarians.

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