The Framing and Value of Learning Development Work in British Higher Education
: An Illuminative Evaluation of Professional Practice

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The professional field of Learning Development (LD) performs vital work in Higher Education such as helping students comprehend and develop practices that enable them to succeed academically. Yet LD is not consistently understood across its stakeholders, leaving the field fragmented and uncertain of its value and future direction. Previous research into understandings of LD has generally harnessed a single stakeholder group’s viewpoint. As an insider to the LD profession, here I examine various stakeholders’ articulations of its work using two related key concepts: framing and value. Framing (Goffman, 1974) denotes how a phenomenon is publicly presented or stage-managed. Value is a subjective concept capturing the worth or significance a person attaches to something (Schwandt, 2011). Here, framings are established through analysing website-based statements through which British universities presented their LD provision, then compared with how practitioners explained the reality of the work. Value is ascertained through illuminative evaluation methods which thematically analyse and compare viewpoints from senior academic staff, learning developers and undergraduate students at one post-1992 university. A rich picture emerged of the perceived value of the profession, including growing recognition of its unique expertise around assessment, feedback and learning, and how that can be harnessed to support students’ disciplinary studies. The framings missed much of this nuance, tending to present LD work more reductively and therefore obscuring swathes of its value. In particular, the frequent framing of LD study skills instruction fails to properly relate the skills to subject study. It thus misses the opportunity to increase its appeal to staff and students, therefore engagement with the work and consequent value actualisation. The existence of this disjunct emphasises the importance of LD professionals advocating strongly about their potential value. It is especially critical to establish mechanisms for involving influential senior stakeholders at universities in that process, to foster higher-level reputational change which can then filter down to staff and students. By accounting for multitudinous viewpoints, this study offers practical recommendations for LD professionals and their universities to accentuate the work’s value and potentially increase its release in practice.
Date of Award25 Oct 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorJoanne Brindley (Supervisor), Emma Louise Maynard (Supervisor) & Jane Creaton (Supervisor)

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