How to Become an Educational Developer?

“What is the appropriate skill set for a developer? Clearly, knowledge of university teaching and learning pedagogy is required, but the day-to-day work for a developer also requires skills in communication, human relations, program development, and organization…” (Knapper, 2010, p. 4)

ED is both theory and praxis, discipline and profession, which is why people sometimes have problems pinning it down. A developer has to be informed, have a little theory, have some practical toolkit items to offer when people come looking for suggestions. The developer discovers opportunity, ways to move the institution, to be a diplomat, to find the spaces where something can be done. It is networking as much as it is knowing Kolb’s Theory of Learning and BOPPPS. In fact, ED is pedagogy, psychology, sociology, diplomacy, networking, performance, empathy, and institutional familiarity all at once. A working knowledge of Stephen R. Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” (1989) is highly recommended.

For an educational developer, having a PhD in general is good, but a disciplinary PhD in ED (or Education) is not an essential asset. Good educational developers are people who understand that change happens and who will undertake the Sisyphean task of improving teaching at their university. A developer can get started on that improvement with a few, sound, core principles, and some energy, but most important is the degree of ability, time management, research skills and so on that the PhD degree is a general marker of. Good developers are people who can get stuff done across a broad range of competencies and areas. Reading the theory and learning the discourse is an important part of the process of becoming a good educational developer, but only one part. To build a good team, a director would want flexible, smart, “can-do” people who care about teaching/facilitating and work well with others. The more styles and competencies on the team, the better, since the many challenges facing educational developers at large universities demand a variety of responses and skills. Reading theorists like Land and Sorcinelli helps, but in fact, an educational developer could be highly effective with “only” their passion for good teaching and a conscientious approach to coaching and communicating good classroom practice.

It may be helpful to view job descriptions of various roles within Educational Development.  The Educational Developers Caucus has posted a list of job descriptions of various roles within Educational Development across Canada.

How to Succeed as an Educational Developer?

Within your first year as an educational developer, and beyond, you want to gain as much experience as you can and surround yourself with as much support as you can.

Drawing on your strengths, experience, passion and educational developer identity, if you make yourself an expert in a particular area (disciplinary (e.g. fine art), cohort (e.g. grad students), topic (e.g. eLearning) etc.) you will develop a niche and stand out among your peers as being an essential member of any team.  Becoming an expert may require you to take courses and workshops, specific training or accreditations, and engage in research, produce publications and attend conferences, essentially contributing to the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL).  In addition to engaging in all of these activities to make yourself an expert in a particular chosen area, gaining as much experience, accreditation and publications as you can will certainly contribute to your success as an educational developer.  It is also very important that you document all of this by creating your educational developer portfolio (ED portfolio).

As with any community of practice, to learn and succeed by moving into the centre of the community, one needs to engage with the community.  One of the easiest ways to engage with the community is to acquire a mentor, an experienced educational developer that can guide you to success and the centre of this community of practice.

To aid you in accomplishing everything we have identified to lead you to succeed, we list the development opportunities available, including certificates and courses, mentorship, everything you need to engage in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) and resources for creating your ED portfolio.

Development Opportunities

Certificates and Courses


Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL)

The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) is an interdisciplinary effort to discover post-secondary “in the classroom” best practice through self-publishing and peer review.

Journals to Publish in

  • International Journal of Academic Development (IJAD)
    • This journal of the International Consortium for Educational Development (ICED) approaches Educational Development as a discipline, exploring theory and praxis in a peer reviewed form. Authors engage with existing secondary literature and present a professional approach to the ongoing evolution of Educational development in both a theoretical and institutional sense. This is less a journal for investigating “best practices” (though there may be some in the form of case studies) and more a publication that is responding to emergence of educational networks on national and international scales.
  • Innovations in Education and Teaching International (IETI)
    • This SEDA journal features peer reviewed publications concerning Scholarly Teaching, eLearning, and encourages international perspectives.
  • Journal of the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia
    • This HERDSA journal prides itself on its peer-review process, with at least two internationally recognized peers reviewing each submission.  The journal publishes scholarly articles focused on any dimensions of higher education.
  • Teaching & Learning Inquiry (TLI)
    • This International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) publication focuses on providing quality and variety by including submissions in various forms, that are interdisciplinary from authors at different stages in their career from all over the world.

See our Conferences page for a list of conferences at which to present your SoTL work

Resources for Developing your ED Portfolio

Suggested Reading List

  • Baume, D. & Popovic, C. (Eds.). Advancing practice in educational development. Routledge (to be published January 2016).
    • Each of the 18 chapters in this book addresses a different aspect of academic or educational development, from what is academic development, to using consultancy techniques, being and using mentors, the role of technology, project work, change management and quality assurance.  The book discusses theory combined with practical guidance and case studies.  It is designed for experienced as well as novice developers.
  • Elton, L. (2009). Continuing professional development in higher education: The role of scholarship of teaching and learning. Arts and Humanities in Higher Education, 8 (3), 247-258.
    • This reference argues that teaching should be subject to scholarship the same as any other discipline. Elton’s suggestion is twofold—first, CPD (continuing professional development) has to be an ongoing process required of all, and second, there should be some post-graduate degree work on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) both in itself as a discipline and re: a set of best practices.
  • Kahn, P. & Baume, D. (Eds.). (2003). A guide to staff and educational development. London: SEDA and Kogan Page.
    • Kahn and Baume’s SEDA approved text compiles the insight of many experienced EDs in the United Kingdom. Focused on new Educational Developers, the text provides specific advice for identifying [client] needs, event-centred development, the use of technology, the role of institutional culture and integrating with national priorities in education, such as e-learning, and experiential education.

*This project was supported by a 2014 Educational Developers Caucus (EDC) Grant of the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE).