The role of learning advisors and support staff within an increasingly differentiated student community

  • Elizabeth Ann Norman Swinburne University of Technology
  • Edwina Clare Newham Swinburne University of Technology
Keywords: learning differences, inclusive curricula, universal design, AccessAbility, LAS, Learning advisors


Increasingly diverse cohorts within Higher Education and Vocational Education courses now include students presenting with learning difficulties. This may suggest an extension to the roles of Academic Language and Learning (ALL) advisors. It also raises the question as to whether a deficit model of student learning is a legitimate pedagogical framework from which to operate. An alternative is to ask if course requirements themselves require re-examination, and further, whether learning advisors are equipped to instigate such? Professional development is readily accessible for educators wanting to understand the implications of student learning difficulties, but we also note that the umbrella term ‘learning difficulties’ embraces concepts wherein terminology can be confusing, particularly for anyone seeking clear definitions of relevant support roles. At Swinburne University of Technology, two of the several services directly involved with providing for students who struggle with their studies are the AccessAbility team and the Learning and Academic Skills (LAS) unit. Using documented student profiles from each of these units we outline instances where barriers to successful student participation have been overcome, along with others of limited progress. We have focussed on learner characteristics and learning strategies as individual students grapple with the content and delivery of courses. The steps taken by LAS and AccessAbility staff are offered for discussion and scrutiny. We conclude by suggesting that the exploration of ‘Universal Design for Learning’ principles provides an exciting orientation for redefining the special future contribution accessibility staff and learning advisors might make while attending to students’ learning difficulties.

Author Biographies

Elizabeth Ann Norman, Swinburne University of Technology
Learning and Academic Skills Advisor
Edwina Clare Newham, Swinburne University of Technology
AccessAbility Advisor
How to Cite
NormanE. A., & NewhamE. C. (2018). The role of learning advisors and support staff within an increasingly differentiated student community. Journal of Academic Language and Learning, 12(1), A128-A140. Retrieved from