Hey you! They're calling you Tinkerbell! What are you going to do about it?





learning development pedagogy, professional status, impact, scholarly debate, critique


Critiques and polemics calling for ‘doing away with study skills’ as an ineffectual ‘Tinkerbell’ mirage that plays into neoliberal, deficit, anti-academic agendas have appeared both in academic scholarship and the higher education press (see, for example, Richards and Pilcher, 2021, 2023; Wingate, 2006). Often originating from outside the learning development community, misinformed and misdirected, these criticisms gain traction with senior leadership and academic colleagues, and cannot be ignored, avoided, or dismissed if we are to promote our ethos (and preserve our jobs). So nearly right in many ways, but for the wrong reasons, they come too close to the mark to shrug off. Yet there has been very little response—let alone rebuttal—from the learning development community, individually or collectively. Robust critique is fair and demands a reply: ‘rising above it’ is not a scholarly response. Any reluctance to engage in outward-facing debate is surely a problem given that there is so much at stake for students and for ourselves.

Are we going to let them talk about us like this?


  • Are they right?
  • Can you prove it?
  • How will anyone know?

Author Biographies

Steven White, University of Southampton

Steve White has been lurking in teaching, learning and research-related third spaces in HE for about 20 years. He worked in interestingly ill-defined roles while developing online MA courses and MOOCs for the University of Southampton, leading him to complete PhD research on the third space in HE. More recent roles have straddled Learning Development and Educational Development at Arts University Bournemouth and now as a Senior Teaching Fellow in Educational Development at the University of Southampton.

Helen Webster, University of Oxford

Helen Webster is Educational Development Consultant for Academic Skills, based in the Centre for Teaching and Learning at the University of Oxford. She has worked in Learning Development since 2006 at a number of institutions, and she has been interested in the emerging profession of Learning Development, its pedagogies, positioning, and status for many years. She was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship in 2019 for her work developing continuing professional development for learning developers.


Bereiter, C. and Scardamalia, M. (1987) The psychology of written composition. New York: Routledge.

Credé, M. and Kuncel, N.R. (2008) ‘Study habits, skills, and attitudes: the third pillar supporting collegiate academic performance’, Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3(6), pp. 425–453. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-6924.2008.00089.x (Accessed: 4 October 2023).

Gravett, K. and Winstone, N. E. (2019) ‘“Feedback interpreters”: the role of learning development professionals in facilitating university students’ engagement with feedback’, Teaching in Higher Education, 24(6), pp. 723–738. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2018.1498076 (Accessed: 4 October 2023).

hooks, b. (2003) Teaching community: a pedagogy of hope. London: Routledge.

Richards, K. and Pilcher, N. (2021) ‘Study skills are not the answer to students’ academic woes’, WONKHE, 17 June. Available at: https://wonkhe.com/blogs/study-skills-are-not-the-answer-to-students-academic-woes (Accessed: 1 August 2023).

Richards, K. and Pilcher, N. (2023) ‘Study Skills: neoliberalism’s perfect Tinkerbell’, Teaching in Higher Education, 28(3), pp. 580–596. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2020.1839745 (Accessed: 4 October 2023).

Wingate, U. (2006) ‘Doing away with “study skills”’, Teaching in Higher Education, 11(4), pp. 457–469. https://doi.org/10.1080/13562510600874268 (Accessed: 4 October 2023).




How to Cite

White, S. and Webster, H. (2023) “Hey you! They’re calling you Tinkerbell! What are you going to do about it?”, Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, (29). doi: 10.47408/jldhe.vi29.1120.

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