#Take5 #77 Talking Heads: The Learning Development Project Podcast




Learning Spaces and Learning Communities, Events

And you may ask yourself, ‘Well, how did I get here?’

And you may ask yourself, ‘How do I work this?’

And you may ask yourself, ‘Am I right, am I wrong?’

And you may say to yourself, ‘My God, what have I done?’

Photo – screenshot of Alicja Syska and Carina Buckley recording the LDP podcast trailer for the 15th time.


The Learning Development Project podcast explores the scholarship of teaching and learning in the field of Learning Development, with the aim of unlocking practitioner knowledge and articulating what makes us a unique scholarly field. 

As our podcast intro explains, we created this scholarly but playful podcast as a platform for our community to share key ideas that underpin our practice and to open up new conversations in the field. To this end, we talk to people who have published works we all use and admire, and who have contributed to making LD what it is. As a result, every episode is filled with ideas, concepts, approaches and perspectives that inform our understanding of LD and make our work with learners meaningful.

Thank you to all our listeners for the encouraging comments we have received so far on the podcast and for the positive engagement on social media – in early September we reached our first threshold of 100 listeners, which is a fantastic reason to celebrate!


As a relatively new field, the body of knowledge informing and guiding Learning Development is still emerging. Although there is some writing available on becoming a Learning Developer, we felt that such a dynamic field needed the constant updating and receptivity to ideas that a podcast series can provide, rather than the more static nature of publication. Often, Learning Developers arrive in their posts from an array of backgrounds with a wide range of expertise, and it is not always clear how LD stands apart as a distinct field. We wanted to find a way to help these new arrivals find not only a home in LD but also confidence as Learning Developers, whilst offering more established practitioners an opportunity to revisit well known publications and discover new ones. 

The conversations of the podcast seemed like a fantastic opportunity to breathe new life into older publications by allowing us to hear how authors feel about their ideas and explain the broader context to their formation. Talking to someone about their work has an energy and immediacy about it that writing, despite its other merits, can’t always provide. True, every publication is a form of conversation, but there is something unique about being in the room – even a virtual room – with the person who began this conversation, and about finding new ways to continue it. 

In light of a growing awareness of what scholarship is and could be, the podcast presents a way of broadening our understanding of scholarly activity. It certainly doesn’t have to just follow the classic publication model but can incorporate other, perhaps more informal, modalities. While we might not be creating new knowledge, through the podcast we are creating new ways of experiencing that knowledge. 

Long story short, our goal in this podcast is to open up and deepen the conversation between writers and the LD community, as we believe that publication shouldn’t be the end of the story. 


How we actually do this can be answered in two different ways. 

Regarding the technicalities of setting up a podcast, we meet and record on Zoom (with several other tools enlisted as back-up!) and publish via Anchor, which automatically uploads our podcast to Spotify. We’re still working on making it available on other platforms, including Apple. For the podcast’s look and feel, we enlisted the talents of our partners to design the podcast logo and compose the soundtrack, and we set up a Twitter account to act as our public voice. 

As for creating the content itself, we didn’t want to attempt to (re)create any particular trajectory of the development of ideas in LD or present them chronologically. Rather, we wanted to focus on the key publications that have had an impact on LD as a field, and we designed a format to help us explore the publication itself, the way our interlocutor understands and relates to LD, and what writing means to them

Then it was just a question of inviting our interviewees to join us!


For our first guest, John Hilsdon was a no-brainer – as the godfather of LD, it felt only natural to begin the conversation with him.

Photo – screenshot of Alicja Syska and Carina Buckley recording the first LDP podcast episode with John Hilsdon

We talked with him about the classic 2011 book, Learning Development in Higher Education, co-edited with Peter Hartley, Christine Keenan, Sandra Sinfield and Michelle Verity. We learned that collaboration and co-working have been a feature of John’s life as a learning developer, driven by initial feelings of isolation as a lone practitioner that prompted the founding of ALDinHE, his establishment of the Journal for Learning Development in Higher Education, and the writing of this book.

We also asked him about developing LD from a field of practice into an academic discipline: John was sanguine about such ambitions, preferring to concentrate on how we work in relationship with colleagues and students. After all, good collaborative work is recognised as such when people feel able to express themselves and know their contribution is valued.

And here’s where writing can come in. It’s about being in dialogue with multiple others, sharing ideas and interpretations. It’s a hugely complex psychosocial construct – no wonder encouraging students to write is at the heart of LD practice.

With our second episode we took a leap forward to talk to Kate Coulson about her recent article on impact, which is of great importance in its own right and is the current theme at the heart of ALDinHE. 

Photo – screenshot of Alicja Syska and Carina Buckley recording the LDP podcast episode 2 with Kate Coulson

Kate told us that she is driven by the desire to show that LD is central, important and has an impact on students – for their sake, and for ours too. But there’s no point having data and insights if no one else knows about it, which is where writing for publication comes in.

Part of the problem is having enough time to organise these thoughts into a publication, especially if you’re someone – like Kate – who would probably rather do anything else than write, even when that helps to overcome the barriers that surround LD. For Kate, the most effective support is the writing retreat she set up and which runs every month. Colleagues love it and have found it productive, and even Kate has managed to write during some of the sessions. So she’s made a space, set targets, and has a group of people to hold her accountable. Now she just has to do it!

And we had to talk to two prolific authors in LD, Sandra Sinfield and Tom Burns, often to be found in the company of regular collaborator Sandra Abegglen, amongst others. 

Photo – screenshot of Alicja Syska and Carina Buckley recording the LDP podcast episode 3 with Sandra Sinfield and Tom Burns (capturing Sandra asking us to cut what has been just said. But did we?)

We began our conversation by clarifying what actually happened when ALDinHE came into being at Plymouth University in 2002 – Tom was keen for the truth to be heard. Following these revelations, we moved on to explore how we prepare students for the mysterious world of university, and in fact the book came out of Tom’s own experiences as what would now be called a widening participation student. Over twenty years and five editions, it has seen multiple updates, but throughout it all it remains a collection of playful, creative and student-centred strategies that empower learners to have a meaningful and happier learning journey in HE. As Sandra said, ‘And that’s the joy of being a learning developer: finding HOW we can help the students’. They also shared some advice for writers, summarised as three principles: be brave, work with other people, and be kind. In other words, set the time, buddy up, and just do it!

Our guests are the heart and soul of the podcast, but we also wouldn’t look or sound the same without the creative contributions of our two artists in residence! Big thanks go to Kate Nettell for designing our logo and to Chris Berry for authoring our background music. 

What’s next?

We can promise you even more fascinating guests in the future, with three already lined up: the fabulous Debbie Holley in October and the wonderful Sunny Dhillon in November. With them as companions, we will be diving into the world of digital divides and wellbeing in HE. As a Christmas gift, we will see out the year in conversation with Professor Alison James, discussing the power of play and creativity. Don’t miss it! 

How can you get involved?

  • If you have a publication that you feel contributes to LD and that you’d like to talk about on the podcast, please reach out – we can be contacted at theldprojectpodcast@gmail.com
  • If you have ideas regarding who you’d like us to talk to, don’t hesitate to make a suggestion. 
  • If you enjoyed an episode, tag us @TheLDPpodcast and share it on Twitter. 
  • If you’re a fan of the podcast, subscribe and consider leaving us a 5-star rating  

Above all, keep listening!

Find us at our home on the ALDinHE website or on Spotify 


Burns, T. & Sinfield, S. (2022) Essential study skills: The complete guide to success at university (5th ed.). Sage.

Coulson, K., Loddick, A., and Rice, P. (2021) ‘Exploring the Impact of Learning Development on Student Engagement, Experience, and Learning.’ In: Huijser, H., Kek, M., and Padró, F.F. (eds.) Student Support Services: Exploring impact on student engagement, experience and learning. Springer Singapore. doi: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-3364-4_19-1.

Hartley, P., Hilsdon, J., Keenan, C., Sinfield, S. and Verity, M. (eds.) (2011) Learning Development in Higher Education. Palgrave Macmillan.

Loddick, A., and Coulson, K. (2020) ‘The impact of Learning Development tutorials on student attainment.’ Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education 17. doi: https://doi.org/10.47408/jldhe.vi17.558.

Collective bio: Carina Buckley & Alicja Syska

We have been working together for several years, through our service on the ALDinHE Steering Group. Two years ago, when the conversations around research and scholarship became louder, we decided to take the plunge and write together to further the conversation. We both have PhDs in disciplines far outside Learning Development and have since transitioned separately to LD-based writing, covering topics such as innovative pedagogies, blended learning, and representation and identity. Together we host the podcast The Learning Development Project, where we explore the ideas that have shaped LD with the authors who contributed them to the field. We are active researchers of LD identity through writing and publication, and firm advocates of the power of writing and collaboration. 

The Learning Development Project Podcast!

If you missed it, you can catch up on Episode 1, with John Hilsdon discussing the origins of Learning Development, here: https://anchor.fm/ldproject/episodes/John-Hilsdon-the-origins-of-LD-e1lrjn0/a-a8ak5s3

Episode 2 of The Learning Development Project: How do you show impact in learning development? And how do you write about your work when you hate writing? Listen to Kate Coulson from the University of Northampton tackling these very issues, in https://anchor.fm/ldproject/episodes/Kate-Coulson-impact-in-LD-and-why-its-okay-to-hate-writing-e1murnv

Episode 3: Join us in conversation with the marvellous Sandra Sinfield and Tom Burns, discussing their book Essential Study Skills but also happiness, bravery, collaboration, and the true story of how ALDinHE came into being. Don’t miss it!

AND: Check out the Studychat FaceBook magazine: https://www.facebook.com/LondonMetStudyChat/ 


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