Today! Do join in an excellent webinar Tuesday 2nd April 12.00-13.00

Working One to One: Authentically Student-centred Learning Development


Dr Helen Webster
Head of the Writing Development Centre
Newcastle University


About this conversation

Learning Developers, Personal Tutors, Peer Mentors, Dyslexia Tutors, Librarians… Many of us work one to one with students to help them reflect on their learning and develop their academic literacies and wider study skills. Such work often aims to be person-centred, and Learning Development and allied professions are strongly rooted in common values of working in partnership with students through inclusive, emancipatory practice, values that are student-centred and aspirational rather than remedial or deficit. However, in the wider dominant teaching culture of our HE institutions, we 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 us enact our values, we risk falling into a quasi-medical model of: Identify the student’s problem (examine), Explain what’s gone wrong (diagnose), Recommend ways to fix it (prescribe). This pathologises the student, depriving them of agency and expertise, and also deprives educators of valuable insight into how students perceive and engage with university study.

This session explores an alternative. It asks how the profession of Clinical Psychology, a branch of mental health practice, has also sought to move away from this ‘doctor knows best’ approach using the core skill of Formulation, and whether it could be adapted for Learning Development one to one practice. 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-centered practice and co-created meaning, it is well aligned to Learning Development values.

We will examine how Formulation would need to be adapted for Learning Development rather than Mental Health practice, and I will propose a model, the Five Ps of LD (Presenting Problem, Pertinent Factors, Perception of Task, Process and Product), which integrates multiple perspectives with longitudinal and cross-sectional socio-cultural factors into a holistic shared understanding of the learning development need and how to move forward. We will look at how this model can be implemented in one to one work and other contexts in a range of student-facing roles in Higher Education.

About Helen

Helen is a Learning Developer, with over 13 years’ experience working with students to develop their academic literacies and become successful independent learners. She is Head of the Writing Development Centre at Newcastle University, and has worked also at Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge and UEA. Her research focusses on developing the theoretical basis on which the new profession of Learning Development rests, creating and adapting models for practice. She is interested in interprofessional working, the intersection between academic, digital and information literacies, and out of all this, creating something in this third space that works for students.

She is a Certified Leading Learning Developer and Senior Fellow of the HEA. As co-chair for the Professional Development working group of the Association of Learning Development in Higher Education, she leads on establishing training in this emerging field of practice. She blogs about her work at

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Best wishes,

Sandra and the TLC Team

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