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Text-only version: Learning Development in a Time of Disruption

Dr Lee Fallin | School of Education, University of Hull

Twitter: @LeeFallin | Mastodon: @LeeFallin@hcommons.social

Introduction & rationale

The Covid-19 Pandemic had (and continues to have) a significant, worldwide impact on Higher Education (HE). To ensure students could keep learning and complete their qualifications, HE Institutions had to make a rapid pivot to online learning. This forced many students and staff to engage with online learning for the first time in a move Hodges et al. (2020) termed as ‘emergency remote teaching’.

The online pivot did not impact academics and students alone. All areas of HEIs had to adapt, including third space professionals (Whitchurch, 2008) like Learning Developers, Educational Developers, Learning Technologists and Instructional Designers. This research project takes a literature-based approach to understand the third space challenges and responses to the pandemic because it is essential to recognise good practice and keep developing pedagogies for teaching in times of disruption. 

This research focuses on analysing the Compendium of Innovative Practice: Learning Development in a Time of Disruption, a special issue of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. The issue contains 102 peer-reviewed reflections on the pandemic, authored by Learning Developers and other third space professionals.


All 102 articles were programmatically harvested using ProQuest Summon for metadata and EndNote for full-text retrieval. Metadata and full-text PDFs were imported to QSR NVivo, and structural codes were applied to document elements like title and keywords (Fallin, 2019). Article full-texts were manually analysed using descriptive (or topic) coding as the first-order coding approach, which focuses on reviewing sentences, paragraphs and diagrams to summarising them with a word or phrase (Saldana, 2021). First-order coding led to the creation of 507 initial codes which were stored under three a priory categories: Challenge, Response and Technology. The initial codes within these categories were then refined with second order coding, to reduce the initial codes into themes (Saldana, 2021; Patton, 2015).


The Challenge

Third space professionals
  • Assessment design
  • Resources & finance
  • Online teaching pedagogies
  • Rapport & relationships
  • Resistant academics
  • Student expectations
  • Student engagement
  • Workload
  • Peer connection
  • Detractors & distractions
  • Did not choose to learn online
  • Digital access & inequality
  • Independent learning
  • Transition & induction
  • Wellbeing & mental health
  • Covid-19 restrictions
  • Privacy
  • Learning outcomes

The response

Emergency remote teaching

Short-term changes to curriculum & assessment to facilitate the rapid move online. This included assessment changes & creative approaches to learning outcomes.

Reflective practice & evaluation

Pedagogy & technology support

Specialist support from third space professionals was essential to equip teaching staff with the skills & pedagogic knowledge required to pivot online.

Course design for the long-term

The pandemic presented an opportunity to redesign curriculum beyond the emergency. Embedding authentic learning; blended, flexible & hybrid modes of delivery & tech.

Collaboration & shared practice

The pace of change was often delivered through collaboration within & between institutions, including shared practice –including open source licences & resources.

Diverse solutions

Over 100 distinct interventions, approaches & responses were identified across the articles. This represents a striking diversity of responses for this shared challenge.

Conclusions & implications for practice

Analysis of the Compendium of Innovative Practice has supported the identification of distinct and shared challenges faced by students and academics – as well as how these challenges were met (the response).

Implications for future practice:

  1. There are many possible solutions to any challenge, and the literature can support practitioners to meet these challenges.
  2. University processes and professional or regulating bodies need to allow rapid adaptation in times of disruption and in the everyday.
  3. University staff need to be better trained and equipped for flexible teaching delivery–especially with hybrid and blended modes.
  4. Reflective practice and evaluation should be ongoing processes to allow continuous monitoring and improvement.