Towards Expertise: Fostering a Culture of Professional Learning Embedded in the Everyday

In a 2019 SEDA blogpost, I outlined a model of expertise for teaching in higher education which arose from engagement with the extensive literature on expertise, discussions with colleagues, and SEDA-funded research with nine National Teaching Fellows. This model has been refined and further explored through an international symposium and subsequent Routledge / SEDA series book (King, 2022). To summarise: I categorised the generic characteristics of expertise into three, overlapping features and translated these into the context of teaching in higher education:

3 inter-related elements of expertise: pedagogical content knowledge, artistry of teaching, and professional learning

Two of the blogposts in this series, by Rich Bale and Erika Corradini, explored facets of the Artistry of Teaching and Pedagogical Content Knowledge respectively, Deanne Gannaway’s post considered a whole-university approach to developing expertise and, in this post, I will look at Professional Learning.

Professional learning, development or practice is essential for the development and maintenance of expertise (e.g. Ericsson). There is no shared definition for professional development in higher education but the literature commonly refers to processes and activities “that, through strengthening and extending the knowledge, skills and conceptions of academics, lead to an improvement in their teaching and consequently to an enhanced learning experience for students” (Inamorato et al, 2019, p.4). These might include attending workshops or conferences, reading relevant literature, conversations with colleagues, peer observations and so on (e.g. Ferman, 2002; King, 2004). As well enhancing student learning, engaging in professional development can also have a positive impact on career progression.  But, despite evidence for the benefits, the engagement of teachers with these activities is often variable and unsystematic. Barriers to engagement include resistance to change, lack of formal requirements or incentives, and lack or perceived lack of time (Inamorato et al, 2019; King, 2019).

The term ‘professional learning’ has been advocated as being more appropriate for the higher education context than ‘professional development’ (e.g. van Schalkwyk et al, 2015; Trowler & Knight, 1998) as models focus on the intrinsic actions and goals of practitioners themselves. This intrinsic motivation is more likely to engender expertise development (Ericsson et al, 1993) and engagement with good teaching practices (Stupnisky et al, 2018). As the expert practitioner progresses in their career their professional learning activities become more autonomous and self-determined (e.g. Schön, 1982; Dreyfus & Dreyfus, 1982; Eraut, 1994), and it is this progressive problem solving (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1993) or proactive competence (Perkins, 2008) that distinguishes the expert from the experienced non-expert. This is the approach to expertise development that I saw in my research with the National Teaching Fellows and that led me to suggest a way of conceptualising professional learning in higher education as a “self-determined and purposeful process of evolution of teaching and research practices, informed by evidence gathered from a range of activities” (King, 2019). It’s a definition I use in workshops with early career and experienced lecturers in helping them to consider and plan for their own development.

But, “excellence in higher education is commonly assessed through outputs, in this case measures such as student satisfaction or graduate outcomes…This effectively ignores [the] critical feature that distinguishes those with expertise from those with experience: a commitment to professional learning. If higher education institutions are to achieve their missions of excellence in education, then they must also foster and enable a culture of professional learning for teaching that is integrated into everyday practice rather than being seen as an add-on. Without this active institutional-level commitment, expertise in teaching will only ever be a subculture of the few.” (King, 2022, pg. 10)

The importance of learning and development has been promoted and supported through SEDA’s work over the last 29 years and the work of educational developers across the UK and internationally. It’s heartening to see it recognised in policy through the Office for Students in England in the recent TEF Guidance which suggests two examples of evidence for the quality of the student experience might be:

“e. Evidence about how the professional development of staff enhances academic practice.

f. Staff feedback or other evidence about how recognition and reward schemes are effective in delivering excellent teaching” (OfS, 2022, pg. 32)

Research and anecdotal evidence suggests that the lived experience of those who teach and/or support learning in many institutions does not include an embedded conception of professional learning, and that workload models do not always support this essential component of expertise development and maintenance. Will the new TEF guidance help to shift institutional cultures, at least in England? What else might change the current thinking about professional development, and what examples already exist of a successful culture of embedded professional learning in higher education? Examples on a postcard (or in the comments below)…

Helen King is Professor of Academic Practice at the University of the West of England and Co-Chair of SEDA. She holds an NTF, SFSEDA and PFHEA.
T: @drhelenking


Bereiter, C. & M. Scardamalia (1993) Surpassing ourselves: an enquiry into the nature and implications of expertise. Open Court, Illinois

Dreyfus, H. & S. Dreyfus (1982) Mind over machine, Free Press, New York

Eraut, M. (1994) Developing professional knowledge and competence, The Falmer Press, Basingstoke

Ericsson, K.A., Krampe, R.T. & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993) The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100(3), 363-406

Ferman, T. (2002) Academic professional development practice: What lecturers find valuable, International Journal for Academic Development, 7(2), 146-158

Inamorato, A., Gaušas, S., Mackevičiūtė, R., Jotautytė, A. & Martinaitis, Z. (2019) Innovating Professional Development in Higher Education: an analysis of practices. EUR 29676 EN, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg

King, H. (Ed: 2022) Developing Expertise for Teaching in Higher Education: practical ideas for professional learning and development. Routledge / SEDA

King, H. (2019) Continuing Professional Development: what do award-winning academics do? Educational Developments, 20(2), 1-5

King, H. (2004) Continuing Professional Development in Higher Education: what do academics do? Educational Developments, 5(4), 1-5

(OfS) Office for Students (2022) Regulatory advice 22: Guidance on the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) 2023.

Perkins, D. (2008) Beyond Understanding. In: R. Land, J.H.F.Meyer & J.Smith (Eds.) Threshold Concepts within the Disciplines. Sense Publishers, Rotterdam

Schön, D. (1982) The Reflective Practitioner: how professionals think in action. Routledge, Abingdon

Stupnisky, R.H., BrckaLorenz, A., Yuhasb, B. & Guay, F. (2018) Faculty members’ motivation for teaching and best practices: Testing a model based on self-determination theory across institution types. Contemporary Educational Psychology 53, 15–26

Trowler, P., & Knight, P. (1999) Organizational socialization and induction in universities: Reconceptualizing theory and practice. Higher Education, 37, 177–195

van Schalkwyk, S., Herman, N., Leibowitz, B., & Farmer, J. (2015). Reflections on professional learning: Choices, context and culture. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 46, 4-10

Developing pedagogical content knowledge through the integration of education research and practice in higher education

The third blog in our four-part series of blogposts drawing on chapters from the Routledge SEDA Series book “Developing Expertise for Teaching in Higher Education: Practical Ideas for Professional Learning and Development

The interplay between theory and practice underpins the development of expertise. In the field of education as well as in other professions, expertise is the ability to continue to develop competence as opposed to plateauing on established routines. Is it possible to develop expertise in education without applying scholarly practices to our teaching? A study exploring lecturers’ attitudes to adopting scholarly approaches (Corradini, 2022) to teaching in higher education has shed (some) light on the impact of this approach on the development of teaching practices vis a vis a meaningful student experience. Arguably, the adoption of scholarly practices in teaching can influence both students and teachers; for example, in driving forward curriculum enhancement and innovation, in engaging educators’ in the continuous development of their practice, in creating and sharing expertise with positive outcomes for the student learning experience. Specifically, the benefits for academics emerging from the above mentioned study are: an ability to transfer research processes to their teaching, an ability to use data to improve the student outcomes, an awareness of the effects a scholarly approach to teaching can have on the development of learning experiences.

The identification of these areas of development provide ground for exploring new approaches to the support educators receive in their teaching jobs and for reflecting on the importance of building intra- and inter-institutional networks of support. The creation of support structures can influence the teaching behaviours and values of individual lecturers (Healy et. al, pp. 32-34) leading to increased uptake of practices which would encourage academic staff to measure and monitor the quality of their teaching accurately, responsively and responsibly.

Engaging lecturers with education research regularly proves to be a demanding task, however. This is especially true for early career academics who find themselves under the pressures of disciplinary research and are often unsupported in their long-term development but for attending teachers’ development programmes. Finding the time and space to develop teaching practices is often overlooked or simply a low priority. While the data sets analysed broadly indicate that a positive attitude and a sense of confidence derive from questioning and making sense of teaching practice (Webster-Wright, 2017), they also reveal a reticence to take risks in areas such as evaluation of teaching, which are not part of the disciplinary identity of most academics.

How can faculty and education developers cultivate the ability and sustain the capacity to integrate evaluation into teaching and learning design and subsequently into practice? Placing particular emphasis on the teacher/educator in context has revealed areas that educators find difficult to navigate; these are time pressures, limited support from mentors and senior management, difficult access to networks of support. Furthermore, HEIs, especially research-intensive universities, have a research remit. In these institutions, academics research in their own discipline; how can they be supported to transfer the same curiosity to their teaching? Similarly, there is an expectation that academics teach students in research-rich environments to encourage the development of research skills and inquisitiveness (Kreber, 2002); educators should do the same by modelling a scholarly approach to teaching, which they often have an opportunity to develop in academic development programmes such as postgraduate certificates, whose reach is however limited.

Some of the areas key to further support HE teachers are: the development and integration of evaluation methods into teaching practice, a coordinated support in obtaining ethics approval, pedagogical content knowledge and transfer, formation of institutional support/engagement networks, and the integration of sustained evaluation practices into curriculum design.

If acquiring pedagogical content knowledge is important for the development of expertise for teachers in higher education, then scholarly educators will need to interface with the above dimensions in order to engage with and sustain research-integrated, evidence-based practices in their teaching routines (Chi, M., Glaser, R., Farr, M., eds 2009). An ability to navigate institutional dynamics and access institutional support networks seems, therefore, worth reflecting on within the community of practitioners. Creating support networks, protecting spaces for experimenting with new methods and encouraging academics to think outside their comfort zones and practise outside established routines would support a culture in which knowledge and expertise are not only developed but also sustained along career trajectories. Educators need to be supported to acquire pedagogical content knowledge and to integrate SOTL into their practice long term, as, owing to time and other priorities, this cannot happen naturally. When spaces are created for doing so and time is protected, there are numerous benefits to the quality of teaching and of student learning.

Erika Corradini is Principal Teaching Fellow in Higher Education at the Centre for Higher Education Practice, University of Southampton. Her activity is centred on supporting academic colleagues in developing their teaching and the academic profession. Erika is active on Twitter @eriCorradini


Corradini, E.,(2022) Developing Pedagogical Content Knowledge through the integration of education research and practice in higher educationin King, H. ed. Developing Expertise for Teaching in Higher Education.Practical Ideas for Professional Learning and Development (Routledge), pp. 142-154

Chi, M., Glaser, R., Farr, M., eds (2009) The Nature of Expertise, (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, New York) Healy, M., Matthews, K.E. & Cook-Sather, A. (2019) Writing scholarship for teaching and learning articles for peer-reviewed journals. Teaching and Learning Inquiry, 7 (2), 28–50.

Kreber, C. (2002) Teaching excellence, teaching expertise, and the scholarship of teaching. Innovative Higher Education, 27 (1), 5–23

Just make it up as you go along? Improvisation and adaptive expertise for teachers

The second blog in our four-part series of blogposts drawing on chapters from the Routledge SEDA Series book “Developing Expertise for Teaching in Higher Education: Practical Ideas for Professional Learning and Development

Is teaching an art or a science? Do teachers engage in routine, structured activities, or do they adapt creatively to what unfolds during learning and teaching encounters? Do teachers facilitate, instruct, or perform? The answers to these questions are complex and almost certainly do not lie at one end of a binary. While I would not conceptualise teaching as a performance, as an act, I would argue that teaching has elements of artistry, creativity, and adaptability – even performance. An interesting artistic, creative, and adaptive area of performance is improvisation which, in the theatre, is a type of live, unscripted performance, where the performers and audience members co-create a piece of live theatre. For a long time, I have found the element of co-creation in improv theatre to be an interesting parallel with learning and teaching, particularly in active learning contexts where students are active participants in their education rather than passive recipients of learning.

From here, I started thinking about the expertise that higher education teachers need to develop. I explored some of the literature on expertise, drawing in particular on the concepts of routine and adaptive expertise (Hatano & Inagaki 1986). In the context of teaching, routine expertise might include a whole host of procedural knowledge and skills, such as aspects of curriculum and course design, session planning, and assessment and feedback methods. But what about the aspects of teaching and learning that cannot be fully planned or predicted? Learning and teaching are complex, messy, social, sometimes frustrating endeavours, which require adaptive expertise; the ability to work in and react to unpredictable situations, creating new knowledge and experiences in the process (Siklander & Impiö 2019). Adaptive experts need not only to be able to bring their existing knowledge, skills and experiences to bear in new, unplanned situations; they also need to be able to observe and notice what others are doing and how events are unfolding. This calls for a highly social, collaborative and team-working mindset, which is where adaptive expertise meets improvisation.

The basic principle of improv: “Yes, and…” – helps to create a collaborative environment, where ideas can be generated and exchanged non-judgementally (A Mind Apart Blog, 5 January 2019)

At the first Expertise Symposium in 2020, I presented some work that I had been doing with graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) on the use of performing arts skills in teaching. In a workshop as part of institutional training for GTAs, we had been exploring improvisation as a way of helping GTAs to develop adaptive expertise in their teaching. The workshop gave GTAs opportunities to discuss any issues or anxieties they had about teaching, and a space to explore some improv games and activities, with the aim of improving confidence, spontaneity, and skills of observation. For me, in the context of teaching and learning, the real reason for developing adaptive expertise and improvisation skills lies in the fact that it makes for an inherently student-centred approach to teaching.

Viewing teaching as a performance activity can attract criticism that there is too much of a focus on what the teacher is doing. But this, I would argue, could not be further from the truth when it comes to improvisation. Roger Kneebone puts this better than I can in his book on expertise and mastery: “In addition to practising, learning to listen, getting things wrong and putting them right, improvisers have to have made the transition ‘from you to them’” (Kneebone 2020, p. 221). An adaptive, improvising teacher is likely to have developed increased awareness of self and others, increased empathy, increased skills of interaction, and an increased ability to facilitate dialogue. But perhaps the most compelling aspect, for me, is this shift in mindset ‘from you to them’: the collaborative, empathetic, student-centred approach that is inherent is an adaptive, improvising teacher’s practice.

Richard Bale is Senior Teaching Fellow in Educational Development in the Centre for Higher Education Research and Scholarship, Imperial College London. He has interests in performance aspects of teaching, expertise development, and intercultural feedback literacy. He is the author of Teaching with Confidence in Higher Education: Applying Strategies from the Performing Arts.

Twitter: @RichBale Email:


Hatano, G., & Inagaki, K. (1986) Two courses of expertise. In H. Stevenson, H. Azuma & K. Hakuta (eds.) Child development and education in Japan. New York: Freeman, 262–272.

Kneebone, R. (2020) Expert: understanding the path to mastery. London: Viking Penguin.

Siklander, P. & Impiö, N. (2019) Common features of expertise in working life: implications for higher education. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 43(9): 1239-1254.

Developing teaching expertise is a contextualised journey

This four-part series of blogposts draws on chapters from the Routledge SEDA Series book “Developing Expertise for Teaching in Higher Education: Practical Ideas for Professional Learning and Development” (March 2022, Ed: Helen King). The book was the outcome of the popular international Expertise Symposium held online in October 2022, and features contributions from over 30 authors (videos of all presentations are available on YouTube). The second Expertise Symposium takes place live online on Friday 14th October with watch parties the following week. It is hoped that a second SEDA Series book will also published from this event. Take a look at the Routledge website for details of all 32 books currently available in the SEDA Series.

The first post in the series explores a whole-university embedded approach to professional learning and developing expertise:

Why do university human relations divisions continue to ignore the fact that professional learning and development of professional expertise – such as teaching – is not something that can be ‘delivered’ in short-term, atomistic activities? And that, if you really want organisational change, didactic, generic “training” is not the way to go?

While expertise in teaching may be a process that is accessible to all, professional development activities can be inaccessible to the very people needing to develop expertise. Often, professional development activities for university teaching staff are offered through central teaching and learning units, meeting governance requirements rather than the individual’s needs.  These programmes can seem to be too generic, irrelevant to those that they seek to engage and perceived a voice for senior management alienated from the trials of the classroom or the culture of the discipline (Trowler & Bamber, 2005, Roxå & Mårtensson, 2009). They can be limited to induction programs, ignoring the learning needs of experienced teaching staff seeking to expand horizons. They can ignore that learning to be an expert is a lived experience, embedded and constructed in practice (Webster-Wright, 2010). Most importantly, these types of programmes can fail to develop the expertise needed to meet long-term, systemic change or the immediate adjustments in teaching practices prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps one of the reasons for this situation is because, when designing professional learning programmes, it appears that the fundamental principles of curriculum design are ignored and the notion of didactic training remains.

We wanted to change the status quo when we came to redesigning our professional learning programmes at an Australian research-intensive university. Instead, we drew on seminal curriculum work (Laurillard, 2010; Fung, 2017) to develop a professional learning curriculum for all university teachers. We wanted a programme that would work for all teachers: from tutors to programme conveners, learning designers to clinical educators. We focused on recognising university teachers’ existing expertise and personalising participants’ professional learning (Keppell, 2014). A centre piece of this work was the development of a Teaching Expertise Framework that foregrounds teaching expertise as a continuum where it is possible for different people to be at different stages of development. The framework now outlines the learning outcomes for our professional learning programmes and as well as our recognition programmes. It has also allowed us to model personalised and learner-centred approaches, that offer relevant and authentic professional learning experiences; core aspects of our University’s vision for our students’ experience.

Associate Professor Deanne Gannaway is the Academic Lead for Professional Learning in the Institute for Teaching and Learning Innovation, University of Queensland, Australia


Fung, D. (2017) Connected Curriculum for Higher Education. UCL Press, London. DOI:

Keppell, M. (2014), “Personalised Learning Strategies for Higher Education“, The Future of Learning and Teaching in Next Generation Learning Spaces (International Perspectives on Higher Education Research, Vol. 12), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 3- 21.

Laurillard, D. (2010) An Approach to Curriculum Design. Institute of Education, London,

Roxå, T., & Mårtensson, K. (2009) Significant conversations and significant networks – exploring the backstage of the teaching arena. Studies in Higher Education, 34(5), 547–559.

Webster-Wright, A. (2010) Authentic professional learning. In Authentic Professional Learning. Springer Netherlands, Dordrecht, 107–142.