Tensions for educational developers in the digital university: developing the person, developing the product

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

Higher Education Research and Development




Centre for Learning and Teaching




University of South Australia


Aitchison, C., Harper, R., Mirriahi, N., & Guerin, C. (2020). Tensions for educational developers in the digital university: developing the person, developing the product. Higher Education Research & Development, 39(2), 171-184. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2019.1663155


Digital education, now common in higher education, is particularly evident in the expansion of blended and fully online offerings at universities. Central to this expansion are educational developers, staff who support teaching and learning improvement in courses they do not themselves teach. Working closely with staff, students, and the curriculum, educational developers see first-hand how the digital learning agenda is both implemented and experienced. This article reports on findings from a national study of three educational development groups: academic developers, academic language and learning developers, and online educational designers, from 14 Australian universities. Although their institutional settings, roles, and work practices varied considerably, a central theme was the tension arising from a perceived shift in institutional priorities from ‘people development’ to ‘product development’: that is, from building human (educator) capacity towards curriculum resource development, particularly for the online environment. Participants reported a decline in autonomy, with institutional strategy and targeted projects increasingly directing both the work that gets done, and the skill sets required to do it. Their observations have implications for how universities conceptualise the development and support of the educational process. © 2019, © 2019 HERDSA.



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