The 8th ALDinHE Conference (the Association for Learning Development in Higher Education) ‘Engaging Students – Engaging Learning’ took place at Queen’s University Belfast 18-20 April 2011. ALDinHE is the organization for professionals engaged in the development of learning within the higher education sector. The provision of Learning Development varies across institutions; some have teams of variously named coordinators, supporters or advisers, both in central positions or placed in Faculties, others have less or none. For the latter, that may be about to change because Learning Development is about to take centre stage. No longer the Cinderella of higher education – with rising fees and increasing focus on the student experience – the ways in which learning can be supported and developed are about to be revisited.
The main problem with Learning Development is a linguistic one. Most people refer to it as Skills – learning skills, academic skills, literacy skills – whatever the prefix there’s no getting away from the subsequent association with deficit or lack and from there it’s a short step to that dreadful word ‘remedial’ – when it isn’t about any of those things. Learning Development is about the qualities which make the higher education experience so unique; critical thinking, reflective practice, independent learning, problem solving, time organisation, motivation, transferable skills – oops there’s that word again – it has to go!
There’s another driver for revisiting and rethinking institutional provision of Learning Development and that’s digital literacy. A colleague has recently asked for a context free description of what is meant by digital literacy. I would suggest analysis, synthesis and evaluation with regard to digital data would be a reasonable start and that Learning Development is ideally placed to support the digital literacy of students (and staff) alongside more traditional higher education requirements. In an uncertain world, one thing we can be sure of is the increasing influence of the Internet and universities need to be at the forefront in making sure the Internet is seen for what it is – a chaos of information with no controls over content and with every day that chaos increases. We need to learn to pick our way through it with care and that requires the sort of critical thinking which lies at the heart of the higher education experience.
Digital literacy will be the making of Learning Development. It’s the opportunity for the profession to stand at the front of the stage and be recognised as a foundation of university education. If you want to engage students – do it digitally. Learning Development is about to have an identity make-over and ALDinHE will be leading the way. http://www.aldinhe.ac.uk/index.htm