What’s in a name? study skills? academic skills? academic literacies? Does it really matter and to whom does it matter?


  • Maddy Mossman University of Leeds




study skills, professional identity, identity, learning development


As a growing and maturing profession, Learning Developers are still crafting their space within their institutions and face constant conversations with academic and professional colleagues, as well as students, as to who we are and what we offer.  Whilst we are protective of the terms we use, and resist using ‘study skills’ to describe our work in favour of the concept of Academic Literacies, it seems that the rest of the academy is slow to follow suit.

Working on a joint project with our Careers service to develop an institutional capabilities framework really highlighted the difference in terminology used, and the sense that, no matter how much I tried, academic and professional colleagues were unwilling or unable to engage with our service offer as delivering anything other than ‘study skills’, despite our insistence on using Academic Literacies to refer to our embedded teaching. It made me wonder whether the terminology matters or might even be counterproductive. Does the term ‘academic literacies’ serve as a barrier to staff and students, even when intended to explain the pedagogical approach that informs our practice? Our students won’t necessarily understand what academic literacies or Learning Development means, which results in using two names to describe our service – one a student-friendly ‘Skills@Library’ name, and the other ‘Learning Development’, intended to demonstrate that we are an academic unit that staff can consider peers in curriculum development and design. Does this approach just serve to dilute our offer to both parties, and cause confusion as to what we actually do?

Through three small open discussions, held as part of the mini keynote session, we explored how LDers refer to their service, why they have chosen those terms, and how they think they are received by their colleagues. With the aim of identifying barriers that this terminology causes for engagement from both staff and students, the following questions were used as prompts for the discussions.


  • Is using the term ‘study skills’ really that problematic? Does it truly challenge our professional identity, and if so, is that challenge significant?
  • How do you refer to the service that you run?
  • How do your cross-institution colleagues describe your service?
  • What have you done to challenge their assumptions?

Author Biography

Maddy Mossman, University of Leeds

Maddy is the Head of Learning Development at the University of Leeds. She has previously held roles in teaching, widening participation and Learning Development at the University of York, Salford and Exeter. Her interests are the pedagogy of academic literacies, in particular supporting students to develop confidence in academic writing,      and increasing opportunities for student support services collaboration.


Hilsdon, J., Malone, C. and Syska, A. (2019) ‘Academic literacies twenty years on: a community-sourced literature review’, Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, Issue 15, November, pp.1-47. https://doi.org/10.47408/jldhe.v0i15.567.

Stapleford, K. (2019) ‘The LDHEN hive mind: Learning Development in UK higher education as a professional culture’, Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, Issue 16, December, pp.1-23. https://doi.org/10.47408/jldhe.v0i16.510.

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




How to Cite

Mossman, M. (2023) “What’s in a name? study skills? academic skills? academic literacies? Does it really matter and to whom does it matter?”, Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education, (29). doi: 10.47408/jldhe.vi29.1143.

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