Institute for Academic Development
Institute for Academic Development

What is Scholarship of Teaching & Learning (SoTL)?

Key features of SoTL plus resources to give an overview of how SoTL can be defined.

The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning has been described as a revolution, a movement, a framework, a tool, even a paradigmatic change in higher education (see Boshier and Huang, 2008 for a summary).  We like to think of it as a process of intentional inquiry into one’s own learning, teaching and assessment practices with a view to enhancing those practices and improve the learning of our students.

Ernest Boyer’s seminal work 'Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate' introduced the concept of the Scholarship of Teaching thus:

We believe the time has come to move beyond the tired old “teaching versus research” debate and give the familiar and honourable term “scholarship” a broader, more capacious meaning, one that brings legitimacy to the full scope of academic work. Surely, scholarship means engaging in original research. But the work of the scholar also means stepping back from one’s investigation, looking for connections, building bridges between theory and practice, and communicating one’s knowledge effectively to students. Specifically, we conclude that the work of the professoriate might be thought of as having four separate, yet overlapping, functions. These are: the scholarship of discovery; the scholarship of integration; the scholarship of application; and the scholarship of teaching.

And so the Scholarship of Teaching, more commonly known as the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning or SoTL, was born and has been the subject of much debate and research in the intervening years.

An overview of SoTL

Scholarship equals teaching, discovery, engagement and integration.

There is no universal agreement about what it is.  Is it a form of research or something distinct?  What’s is the difference between excellent teaching, scholarly teaching, and SoTL? For a review of the debate around what SoTL is, and its role in teaching in HE see this a recent report by Fanghanel and colleagues (2016) commissioned by the Higher Education Academy. For a summary of the SoTL field see a presentation (linked below) given at a recent PTAS Learning & Teaching Forum.  

Defining and supporting the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL): A sector-wide study.

PTAS Forum presentation - An introduction to SoTL

Key features of SoTL

Despite ongoing dispute about the nature of SoTL, there is general agreement about certain key features of the process that is SoTL, they are:

  1. Grounding your work in discipline-specific and pedagogic knowledge and research, normally through engagement with the literature
  2. Analysing your practice through critical reflection on your teaching and the learning of your students
  3. Disseminating the outcomes of your SoTL work for peer review and public scrutiny in order to further develop it.

More information about engaging in SoTL can be found at the references below.


Boyer, E. 1990. Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Fanghanel, J., Pritchard, J., Potter, J., & Wisker, G. (2016). Defining and supporting the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL): A sector-wide study. York: HE Academy.