2b: An understanding of your target learners


Over the years my ‘target learners’ have included undergraduate medical students, medical educators (including clinicians), higher education staff across many disciplines and beyond. This has spanned formal teaching as well as what is more generally termed staff development. Regardless of the setting my approach is one of care and I ensure that I tailor each session to meet the needs of the learner.

With regards to the modules that I taught at undergraduate level I incorporated as many different digital skills into the teaching and assessment that students would be able to draw on throughout the rest of their studies as it wasn’t something that was given focus in the medical curriculum. For example, adding in a workshop on referencing and reference managers into the Wikipedia module, was something that by third year they hadn’t had formal experience of.

Working to Universal Design for Learning I ensured that students had autonomy to choose the topic and approach to their assessment. In the digital learning module they could pick any software they had access to create their learning object but I provided advice and support throughout. In the Wikipedia module they could choose any topic to research within a medical sphere. Each student was then able to bring their own skills and strengths; the variety included scientific, people, charities or hospital buildings.

Ulster icon, a bright blue periodic table imageComing from medical education, I was used to having a diverse set of learners from undergraduate students to hospital consultants, however, taking a centrally located role at Ulster meant my learners were even more diverse, crossing all disciplines from humanities to heathcare. Therefore, it was crucial that I listened carefully to their needs in educational development situations in order to understand how I could support them best. Knowing the level to aim my teaching at and knowing how far to encourage more advanced techniques with technology was imperative not only for teaching staff but the subsequent experiences their students would have.

Heriot-Watt icon, a dark blue periodic table imageAt Heriot-Watt I have contributed to marking and feedback (formative and summative) for two courses (modules) since starting at Heriot-Watt, bringing all of my previous experience and my ethics of care. I ensure my feedback is constructive and provides sufficient information and support to make any changes required to meet all elements of the marking rubric. Both the moderator and external examiner commented on the high quality feedback given to learners. Being aware that my learners are professionals, with very diverse backgrounds/disciplines and globally located means my feedback has to be motivational, supportive and extremely clear.

In addition to the formal PGCertTL marking and feedback that I do at Heriot-Watt I have a wide range of experience as a reviewer:

  • Lead CMALT assessor
  • CMALT mentor
  • Conference abstracts: ALT, OER
  • Chapters: LD Voices, HE for Good
  • Journals: Medical Teacher, Primary Care
  • AdvanceHE CATE

I apply the same ethics of care for all of my review work, highlighting positive aspects where possible and providing advice and support links (if relevant) if the work requires improvement.


Differentiating between teaching and support in CMALT portfolios is often difficult for the majority of learning technologists who do not do any formal teaching so having had formal experience since my last portfolio has been really valuable. Understanding my learners in the two spheres may be distinct but my values and approaches are the same for both. However, I love the experiences of formal teaching. Being responsive to individuals and groups, with the ability to provide a flexible approach is something that I have seen highlighted in student feedback I receive. For example, knowing when a cohort requires me to continue to contribute to each discussion forum contribution and when another have bonded quickly and the discussion is flowing naturally, only needing me to add summary contributions less frequently.

With regards to teaching staff throughout the pandemic, having a flexible and calm approach was something that I employed in every interaction. For example, the need to assure that the problem can be solved and not to worry, that I tailored the use of technical language as overly technical terms could cause added stress, and listening carefully to their needs to ensure that the solution I offered was appropriate to their skillset. Another approach, that was crucial to ensure care was to time sessions carefully, if possible not going over an hour and if so then adding a break. If a break was not possible I suggested that people got up and stretched and stood for a bit while I was talking as a reminder to have a screen break. Learning from external educators such as Maha Bali, Karen Costa, AbilityNet underpinned my approaches (CV3) during the difficult and complex period of remote teaching and learning. I ensured that I repaid this in kind by disseminating and sharing internally and externally (this is covered in more detail in Specialist Area 2) (CV4).

Having experienced poor feedback myself, as a student and as a professional, it drives me on to never be what can be flippantly called ‘Reviewer 2’. This term has been coined to describe someone who centres feedback about themselves rather than the recipient, they can be abrupt and even rude and rarely supportive. Utilising all the different features on Canvas, for example, has afforded me different spaces to encourage a dialogic approach to my feedback – script annotations, rubric comments and overall comments. I have been encouraged that dialogues have been opened and taken beyond the assignment submission (CV1, CV2).


Feedback testimonial:

Thank you so much for this thoughtful and detailed review! Your specific questions and suggestions will surely be useful to the authors as they revise the chapter. I know that your efforts will be gratefully appreciated by the authors.“, Book editor

Ulster University Staff Testimonials:

The relentless training sessions, resources and 1:1 support were phenomenal, even for a technophobe like me! I felt like you cultivated relationships and ‘held our hands’. As a school undergoing a major transition, our newly acquired digital learning and teaching skills have inspired and given confidence. This may in some cases lead to staff retention and a smoother transition of programmes. About health and the impact of the lockdown – The epidemic of poor mental health has been better managed for many students and staff – You made a difference.“, Senior Lecturer, Ulster University

I would like to thank you for all your help and support with all my digital needs this semester.  Both assessments went so smoothly and this was because of your patience throughout the whole process. I am really indebted to you and so very grateful for your help.”, Senior Lecturer, Ulster University

Thank you for this Clare – let me tell you – your input has helped us get there!!! Thank you so much for your expertise, support and time.”, Lecturer, Ulster University

Dear Clare. Thank you for such a lovely message which just reflects you whole approach to the last nine months. I can honestly say that in over 25 years of teaching in the University I have never felt  so stressed for such a prolonged period of time and the only thing that got me through was the help and support that you, x and x so willing and patiently give to me on an ongoing basis.”, Lecturer, Ulster University

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