MSc Psychology and Learning Disability - University of Portsmouth

Psychology and Learning Disability

Part Time Distance Learning2yrs

Full Time Distance Learning1yr

Flexible study for graduates and professionals interested in learning disability

Course Overview

Why take this course?

The term 'learning disabilities' is used interchangeably with 'intellectual disability' to describe those who, from an early age, have substantial problems with learning and who need support with many aspects of life, including living independently.

This distance learning course enhances knowledge and skills of graduates and experienced practitioners wishing to develop their understanding of people with learning disabilities.

When embarking on this course, you may benefit from having completed paid or voluntary work with children or adults with intellectual disabilities.

What will I experience?

On this course you can:

  • Be taught by academics who are active researchers in learning disability
  • Participate in live web-based chat forums, e-conferencing, and individual tutorials, to discuss your work with lecturers and with other students
  • Tap into the Library’s vast selection of electronic resources or access library facilities and borrow books locally via the SCOLNUL scheme

What opportunities might it lead to?

This course provides an opportunity for those supporting children and adults with intellectual disabilities and their families to enhance their knowledge and skills, and gain an academic qualification.


Clare Mander, MSc Applied Psychology of Intellectual Disabilities graduate

Developing my theoretical knowledge and applying it to my day-to-day work was invaluable. Evidence-based practice is key to modern NHS culture and the course helped me prepare for this.

Clare Mander, MSc Applied Psychology of Intellectual Disabilities graduate

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Structure & Teaching

Full-time students will study all 180 Level M credits (i.e. six units) in one full year. Part-time students will normally study three units each year, and will begin to explore potential research ideas and research methodologies in the first year. All units are Level 7, 30 credits, and  are core units. 

Here are the units you will study (part-time students will study these in the first year):

  • Critical Disability Studies and Intellectual Disability: The perspective of Critical Disability Studies (CDS) is about how society and its agents respond to the labelled person's circumstances rather than how intellectual disability inhabits the person. This unit will address the relationship between workers and disabled people that CDS might call for. Here disability and intellectual disability in particular will be a standpoint or position from which to view society, in contrast to disability as a categorisation of people.
  • Autistic Spectrum Conditions: this unit aims to provide knowledge about autistic spectrum conditions and promote understanding of the key issues in providing support to people with autistic spectrum conditions and their families. 
  • Quantitative and Qualitative Research Methods: This unit provides an introduction to experimental and survey-based research methods, and quantitative data analysis techniques. It covers qualitative methods for data collection and analysis, as well as to how to write research reports in both traditions.

The following units will be studied in the first year by full-time students and in the second year by part-time students:

  • Families and Systemic Therapy: This unit aims to provide you with an understanding of families including an appreciation of experiences of families with an intellectually disabled member. It aims to enhance your abilities to support families via theoretically informed, partnership-based empowering practices.
  • Research Project: The research project requires you to initiate, conduct and report upon an original piece of research. The work is conducted to deadlines agreed with a project supervisor and project must include empirical quantitative or qualitative research – data collection and relevant analysis must be included. Any statistical analysis must be both descriptive (e.g. means, standard deviations and graphs etc.) and inferential (i.e. statistical tests).
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): This unit outlines and discusses the efficacy of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. This course provides a thorough introduction to the academic literature on this subject. It is not, however, training be a therapist.

We use the best and most current research and professional practice, alongside feedback from our students, to make sure course content is relevant to your future career or further studies.

Therefore, some course content may change over time to reflect changes in the discipline or industry and some optional units may not run every year. If a unit doesn’t run, we’ll let you know as soon as possible and help you choose an alternative unit.

Teaching and Assessment

Despite its distance learning mode, this course is still extremely student focused. You will be given resources, materials, help and guidance to complete your studies to your full ability. Using our virtual learning environment you can participate in group discussions with other students in a friendly yet challenging online class environment. Plus real-time text based 'chat sessions' with lecturers will ensure you receive all the support you need for the topics you study.

How are you assessed?

You are assessed in a variety of ways to reflect the individual topics, however there are no examinations and all assessment is coursework based. Here’s how we assess your work:

  • practice files
  • essays
  • critical reviews
  • data analysis and reports
  • literature reviews
  • a research project

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Facilities & Features

Flexible Learning

Although you may not be campus based, you will still benefit from web, email or phone access to many of our facilities and services. Our student website, LookUP, will be your one-stop shop for all news, information and links to other services, and 24/7 online access to the University Library’s vast electronic book, journal and database collections will help you find the right resources for your research.


Due to the distance-learning nature of this course and the potential pressure of juggling your course alongside work life, we aim to provide you with as much support as possible. There are tutors available to support your studies via online tutorials, email and telephone conferencing. You will also be assigned a personal tutor who will offer support and guidance throughout your studies.


Throughout the course we aim to organise optional remote seminars and/or workshops (using conferencing platforms such as WebEX) covering topics of current interest and study material relating to specific unit topics. Though these seminars are not compulsory, we strongly recommend that you try to attend as students report finding them very useful and beneficial to their studies.

University Library

Modern, comfortable and a great learning environment, our library offers a wealth of information including 400,000 books, DVDs, maps and thousands of online ejournals and newspapers. Many electronic resources are available anywhere, 24/7 and our friendly staff are always on hand to help. The library also has an electronic bibliography for psychology called PsycInfo, which can be accessed via the internet from your home. It is an invaluable tool for searching for literature on any topic.

Budgeting for your studies

There may be extra costs arising from your studies which you will need to consider when planning your expenditure.

Some are common costs to all courses of study. These may include the cost of study texts, reference books, photocopying and computer supplies. Others relate to specific courses and may include field trips, materials and specialist equipment.

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Careers & Opportunities

Career prospects

When embarking on this course, you may benefit from having completed paid or voluntary work with children or adults with intellectual disabilities.

Previous graduates of the course frequently make significant progress in their careers. Some are just in the beginning stages while others move on to senior manager positions and upwards. Past students have also progressed to advanced academic qualifications such as PhDs or professional doctorates.

Career planning

One of the benefits of studying at Portsmouth is the support that we provide to our Master's and Research Degree students in career planning. Our careers and recruitment service can assist you in career research and finding employment opportunities. Help is also available if you wish to find a part-time job while studying your degree.

We offer our postgraduate students and alumni one-to-one appointments with a careers adviser, or an online service for those not able to travel back to the University. Our alumni can call on our career services for five years after graduation.

In addition, regular employability events offer you the chance to meet employers, find out about different career sectors and improve your applications or CV. The Graduate Summer Programme provides a range of guidance and employability seminars and workshops.

Benefits of Postgraduate Study

Regardless of whether you are seeking to build on your studies, further your career or pursue a career change, a postgraduate qualification adds to your achievement record.

  • Postgraduate study may greatly improve your chances of getting that first break.
  • Many graduate employers prefer the higher intellectual rigour displayed in postgraduate students.
  • Recruiters for roles requiring specialist knowledge or research particularly target those with higher level qualifications.
  • Postgraduate study shows you can take the challenge of in-depth study; acquiring transferable skills in team working and problem solving techniques.
  • If you have a passion for a particular subject, postgraduate study can also be something undertaken as part of your own development at an appropriate time in your life.

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Apply now or visit us

Online application form

Apply direct using our online form

Your application will be received by the University Admissions Centre for consideration.

Postgraduate Open Evenings

Our Postgraduate Open Evenings are taking place between February and April. Lecturers and support staff will be available to discuss your options. You'll also find out more about your chosen course and subjects that interest you.

Booking will open soon but in the meantime, watch our Postgrad Live series to hear from our staff and students about what it's like studying at Portsmouth. 

Other opportunities to visit

Download our free walking tour PDF for a self-guided tour of the University.

We have an open-door policy so you will be able to take a look in our buildings, speak to some of our support services and get a feel for the campus.

Find out more about our self-guided walking tours.

Can't get to Portsmouth?

If you can’t make it to Portsmouth, come and see us at one of the events we attend around the UK.

If you would like to speak with a member of staff about any courses you are interested in, please email and we will arrange this for you.

Staff from the University of Portsmouth Global office also regularly attend overseas exhibitions. To find out more about these and our visits to your region see our exhibitions page.

Fees and Funding

Find out more about fees and funding available to you at Portsmouth.

Admissions terms and conditions

When you accept an offer to study at the University of Portsmouth, you also agree to our terms and conditions as well as the University’s policies, rules and regulations. You should read and consider these before you apply.

University of Portsmouth
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