Micro, meso and macro educational development?

Prof Jackie Potter, University of Chester

In sociology, economics and other subjects, researchers and practitioners talk about micro, meso and macro levels or approaches to describe and investigate the complexities of systems. I first came across the distinction of micro, meso and macro when I worked with a multidisciplinary team to research the scholarship of teaching and learning; we used the concept of micro, meso and macro levels to develop an audit and capacity-building tool to develop the scholarship of teaching and learning (Fanghanel et al, 2016). We used the framework to distinguish between actions taking place at the level of the individual tutors and departments (micro); at the institutional level (meso); and at national and international levels (macro). With some of the same co-authors I was subsequently involved in defining types of activity undertaken by individuals to develop their own scholarly teaching profile (Pritchard, Wisker and Potter, 2018). From winning teaching grants to engaging in peer review, we used the framework of micro, meso and macro levels to differentiate between individual activity and working with department colleagues, developing and sharing practice at the institutional level and finally developing and sharing practice nationally and internationally.

Most recently I have come across the use of the framework to describe the curriculum (Robertson, 2021, Freecours, n.d.).  The two examples use the framing a little differently to each other. Micro-curriculum is described variously as subject knowledge or classroom interactions and activities. Meso-curriculum is subject topics or organising structures and institutional context. Macro-curriculum is the balance of subjects comprising the timetable or activities outside the classroom including the sociocultural and educational systems and polices.

Notwithstanding the differences in the definitions for use of the terms, micro, meso and macro, by different authors, the nested hierarchy is a handy organising tool. Could it be useful to differentiate areas of educational development work? And if we can differentiate areas of our work using this framework, can it help us to reflect on and develop our practice and influence?

If we apply micro, meso and macro to educational development we can usefully differentiate:

  • Micro level educational development – supporting individuals to develop teaching expertise and working with department teams to develop effective ways of working, for example, supporting the development of assessment practices and curriculum design. From professional recognition schemes aligned to the PSF and SEDA PDF, to facilitated teamwork, for example curriculum design workshops like ABC, and approaches to improve assessment such as TESTA. It may also include working with multiple teams simultaneously when running sprints and sand pit events. This work improves student learning by influencing the academic practice of teaching staff and is the mainstay of educational development. 
  • Meso level educational development – working to improve institutional systems, structures, procedures, rules, and guidance that determine ‘the way we do things’ within our home institution. This can include educational developers involved in working groups and task forces, for example to support Access and Participation Plan priorities or to develop new policies or processes. This is work that leads to or contributes to the development of thought or action to make sustained, widespread educational change. 
  • Macro level educational development – becoming involved in developing and sharing practice at a national or international level.  This could include ‘going public’ and sharing our micro and meso level activity through publications that have national and international reach, and by submitting case studies of our work. It can also include citizenship work, for example acting as a reviewer for national schemes such as NTFS and CATE awards, or membership of steering groups to oversee change. Being involved in actively contributing to our professional bodies such as SEDA and HEDG, cross-institutional and inter-state collaborations with others where difference in context is noted and celebrated are all ways we can contribute at the macro-level.

How does framing educational development work in this way help us reflect on and develop our practice and influence? 

First, staff in teaching and learning centres can reflect on those areas where we lead thought and action at the micro level, and those areas where we collaborate within our institution to effect change at the meso level. We can challenge ourselves to consider the balance of our activity and influence across the two levels. How is work in these two areas of activity related, or how could it be so? What more or different work could we do in these two spheres of activity to really improve student and staff experiences of studying and working in our universities?

Second, educational developers and their senior managers can usefully discuss and determine the extent to which educational developers should and can lead meso level activity. Within a university, educational developers often hear first-hand from the individuals they work with which aspects of the wider university systems cause difficulty for students and staff. They are uniquely positioned to report this forward to senior leaders if there are open and trust-based relationships between them. They could also lead meso level workstreams, although both the educational developers and the senior leaders will need to believe that it is their business to do so. For some, this sphere of activity is considered beyond the core educational developer role as supporting academic practice at the micro level. Tensions can arise when senior leaders and educational developers hold different ideas about the extent to which educational developers should or can lead meso level activity. Negotiating involvement in this work and leading it requires skilful political and interpersonal competencies as well as senior leader sponsorship.

Third, and finally, educational developers, the people and the institutions they support, can benefit when educational developers engage in macro level activity. The publication of works, service and citizenship to professional bodies and sector bodies all support the endeavour of raising capabilities for academic practice. Contribution to the ‘what works’ literature and developing the research and evidence base for our professional activity feeds into the practice of authors and readers alike. Service and citizenship, and indeed paid roles such as external reviewers or examiners, allow educational developers to engage in continuing professional development through activity-based learning. It offers the privilege of seeing first-hand, or early in development, ways of working that would usually be hidden from view as we see across organizational boundaries. This on turn allows us to critically reflect on and appraise practice in our own organisation.

If this blog was useful or has raised any questions about the framing of educational development work, please do drop me a line or leave a comment here.

Jackie Potter is Dean of Academic Innovation at the University of Chester and Professor of Higher Education Learning and Development. She is the Vice-Chair of the Heads of Educational Development and a member of the Staff and Educational Development Association. She can be contacted at jackie.potter@chester.ac.uk


Fanghanel, J., Pritchard, J., Potter, J. and Wisker, G. (2016). Defining and developing the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL): a sector-wide study. SOTL audit and capacity-building tool. York, Higher Education Academy. 

Freecours (n.d) Curriculum development: macro-, meso- and micro curriculum. Powershow.com.  Available at https://www.powershow.com/view/3c1891-ZjY5O/Curriculum_Development_Macro-_Meso-_Micro_Curriculum_powerpoint_ppt_presentation. Downloaded 20.12.2022

Pritchard, J., Wisker, G. and Potter, J (2018).  Engaging in the scholarship of teaching and learning as part of continuing professional development. In Potter, J and Turner, R. Doing a good job well – being recognized as an experienced professional teacher in HE. SEDA Special 41. London, SEDA. 

Robertson (2021) A 5 minute guide to: curriculum planning. Macro, meso & micro. Available at https://theteachingdelusion.com/2021/11/13/a-5-minute-guide-to-curriculum-planning-macro-meso-micro/ Downloaded 20.12.2022

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