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Psychology and Learning Disability MSc

Learn how to make a positive difference in the lives of people with learning disabilities in our 2 year part-time Master's course. Study by distance learning to fit your lifestyle.

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This Master’s course looks in detail at learning disability, neurodiversity and autism from a psychological perspective. Studying contemporary practices, critical theories and case studies, you’ll investigate how neurodivergent and learning disabled people can be best supported in healthcare, education and workplace settings.

Whether you're currently working with people with learning disabilities or you've recently graduated and you're looking to get started in this field, this MSc Psychology and Learning Disability degree is designed to provide you with the skills and knowledge to develop your career and become a specialist.

It’s a part-time, distance learning course, which allows you the flexibility to fit your studies around work commitments. In Year 1, you’ll study modules that cover the core issues, and in Year 2 you’ll focus on your own research project with support from our expert tutors.

Psychology at the University of Portsmouth is ranked 5th of the modern universities for research quality

Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021

Read more about our excellent psychology research


This course accepts UK, EU, and international students.

Course highlights

  • Join one of the few Master’s programmes to study learning disability, neurodiversity and autism from a psychological perspective, as opposed to a nursing perspective
  • Learn about the role that psychological methodologies and analytical techniques can have in the planning and delivery of learning support at an individual and organisational level
  • Increase awareness and understanding in the sector and beyond, about the positive role of psychology and psychotherapy in the study of learning disability
  • Complete an individual research project on a topic of your choice. Each year we present the Sue Buckley Award – named after our esteemed Emeritus Professor of Development Disability – for best project

Benefits of distance learning

  • Work from anywhere, at your own pace, in your own time – with interactive online learning materials hosted on our virtual learning environment, Moodle, and available 24/7 on any device – find out how distance learning works
  • Access to over 600,000 ebooks, 55,000 online journals, digital newspapers and a postal loan service from our University Library – see all library support for distance learners
  • Invitations to online forums where you can discuss your studies with other students and your lecturers
  • Access to all student support services via email, phone, online chat or video call

Contact information


+44 (0) 23 9284 5566

Contact Admissions

Entry requirements​


This course accepts UK, EU, and international students.

September 2024 start

  • A good honours degree or equivalent in a relevant subject.
  • Applicants with a professional qualification not at degree level may be accepted - each application is considered on an individual basis according to academic qualifications as well as professional qualifications and experience.

Please get in touch if you're not sure if your undergraduate subject is relevant to this degree.

Equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications will also be considered, such as previous study, employment, voluntary work and training courses, including courses and qualifications you didn't complete. Learn more about our Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL).

If you're applying as an international student with a non-UK degree, you’ll need to show you meet the UK entry requirements listed above.

To find out if your non-UK degree or other qualification is accepted, please visit our page for your country and view the UK equivalent of your qualification. 

  • English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 (or equivalent) with no component score below 6.0.

You do not need an IELTS or equivalent certification if:

  • you have a UK degree
  • you have a degree from a majority English speaking country (not taught by Distance Learning)
  • you are a national of a majority English speaking country

Degrees taught solely in English from non-majority English speaking countries will be considered on a case by case basis. Find out more about our English language requirements.

If you do not meet the English language requirements yet, you can achieve the level you need by successfully completing a pre-sessional English programme before you start your course.

Course costs and funding

Tuition fees (September 2024 start)

  • Year 1: £6,930
  • Year 2: £3,470 (may be subject to annual increase)

(including Transition Scholarship)

  • Year 1: £6,930
  • Year 2: £3,470 (may be subject to annual increase)

  • Year 1: £6,930
  • Year 2: £3,470 (may be subject to annual increase)

University of Portsmouth graduates may receive a 20% alumni tuition fee discount

Fees are subject to annual increase. Read our tuition fees terms and conditions.

You'll be able to pay your fees in instalments. Find out how to pay your tuition fees.

Funding your studies

Explore how to fund your studies, including available scholarships and bursaries.

If you're a UK student, you may be eligible for a Government Postgraduate Master's Loan, which you can use to help with course fees and living costs.

Loans, scholarships and bursaries

Browse funding such as the Government Postgraduate Loan, our scholarships for new and returning students, and subject specific loans.

Female Master's student
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Funding for international students

Learn more about sponsorships, scholarships and loans for students applying from outside of the UK.

international business students
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Fees and funding for Master's courses

Explore Master's funding options, including loans, scholarships, bursaries and more.

Explore funding

Additional costs

These course-related costs aren't included in the tuition fees so you'll need to budget for them when you plan your spending. Additional costs could include:

  • Recommended reading: You can borrow key texts from the library and if you choose to purchase these texts they may cost up to £60 each.
  • General costs: such photocopying, memory sticks, printing charges, binding and specialist printing. We suggest budgeting £75 per year.
  • Final project transport or accommodation: where necessary, which relate to your research activities. The amount will depend on the project you choose.

Read more about tuition fees, including what your tuition fees cover.



All modules on this MSc Psychology with Learning Disability course are core.

You'll critically interrogate the constructions of learning disability and interpret philosophies of support. Identify the impact social and structural factors have on the lives of those with learning disabilities and explore current approaches in supporting people with challenging behaviour. You'll discover and assess the core research paradigms within which research into learning disabilities takes place.

You'll learn to think beyond the traditional social-medical or deficit models behind disability and instead, explore how society views people with disabilities. Investiagte the relationship between workers and disabled people and how knowledge, social practices, service systems and professional patterns surrounding disability are socially constructed. Finish equipped to create new and empowering narratives around disability.

You'll be encouraged to critically reflect on the nature of autism and examine the factors that affect how autism is considered in different societal contexts, such as healthcare, education, and the workplace.

Finish with a critical understanding of how autism is determined by societal views, applying this knowledge to your current or future practice.

You'll critically investigate theories and research, policies and practices, and popular media portrayals related to people with developmental or mental health disabilities through the neurodiversity framework, which examines disability as a complex interaction between various neurocognitive differences and the environments they encounter. Explore the neurodiversity movement's fight for rights as you discover how it seeks to promote human development while respecting diversity, amid debates of access and equality. Finish with a stronger awareness toward the lived experiences of neurodivergent people, and how they inform tensions between alternative models of neurodivergence and disability.

All modules on this MSc Psychology with Learning Disability course are core.

In Part 1, you'll receive an introduction to the epistemological principles for psychological research. In Part 2, you are then introduced to the more practical side of research methods by learning about the different methods of data collection and analysis (i.e., quantitative, qualitative, and literature-based methods), using practical examples of studies and exercises in the application of different methods. The module is delivered via the Moodle Virtual Learning Environment using text-based materials, and guided activities and exercises (e.g., workbooks to apply your learning). You'll also have the opportunity to engage in optional seminars, tutorials, and drop in surgeries about the module content and assessment led by the Module co-ordinator delivered via Zoom or other online platforms.

You'll use either quantitative or qualitative methods to answer your research question and produce a portfolio that will compile your guided activities during your first teaching block. You'll also provide a clear rationale for your intended research. Before work begins on your project, a formal ethical review process may be required, depending on the nature of your proposed study. At the start of your project, you'll be allocated a project supervisor who will support you throughout the project via regular supervision meetings. With guidance from your supervisor, you'll prepare an agenda for each meeting and take control of your learning.

Changes to course content

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, course content is revised and regularly reviewed.  This may result in changes being made in order to reflect developments in research, learning from practice and changes in policy at both national and local levels.

How you'll spend your time

We recognise that you'll probably be juggling more demands when you do your Master's degree, as you may be working or you may have family responsibilities.

We'll give you as much indication here as we can of how much time you'll need to spend in online lectures and seminars and how many hours you can expect to spend in self-directed study, but please note that these indications are always subject to change.

Course structure 

One of the big benefits of being a part-time student and a distance learner, is that you can be flexible with your studies. You'll get the most from the course by attending as many live, online sessions as you can, but all the sessions are captured and uploaded to your virtual learning environment for you to view in your own time.

You can expect:

  • up to 10 hours per week engaging with the core course materials and attending online sessions (roughly, one lecture, seminar, workshop or tutorial every two weeks).
  • up to 10 hours of independent study each week.
  • all core course materials available online at all times so you can create your own study schedule around work or other commitments. 
  • timetabling advice to manage your time.


Teaching methods on this course include:

  • lectures
  • seminars
  • tutorials
  • guided and independent workshops

This Master's in Psychology and Learning Disability is delivered by supported distance learning. You’ll receive high-quality course materials via Moodle, our online learning environment. You'll get to chat with fellow students, discuss and present your work and keep in touch with tutors. You'll get plenty of support throughout your studies, including help on writing and structuring essays, and how to undertake research.

To study this course:

  • you'll need access to a computer and a web connection
  • you may be able to access some of the resources through a tablet or smartphone
  • you don't need to be especially computer literate, although typing skills are useful

Teaching staff

These are some of the expert staff who'll teach you on this course:

User profile default icon

Dr Mark Haydon-Laurelut

Senior Lecturer


Department of Psychology

Faculty of Science and Health

PhD Supervisor

Read more
Beatriz Lopez Portrait

Dr Beatriz Lopez

Associate Professor in Developmental Psychology


Department of Psychology

Faculty of Science and Health

PhD Supervisor

Read more
Steven Kenneth Kapp Portrait

Dr Steven Kapp

Senior Lecturer


Department of Psychology

Faculty of Science and Health

PhD Supervisor

Read more
User profile default icon

Dr Karl Nunkoosing

Principal Lecturer


Department of Psychology

Faculty of Science and Health

Read more


You'll be assessed through:

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

Term dates

September start

The Master's academic year runs from September to the following September. There are breaks at Christmas and Easter. Over the summer you'll be writing your project/dissertation.

See key dates

Career development

Careers this Master’s prepares you for

If you’re working in education or learning support, or if you’re already specialising in learning disability or developmental needs, this course will help you develop personally and professionally, introducing new ways to design and deliver services to individuals with developmental disability.

Previous students who were already in professional roles during the course have progressed to senior management positions, academic posts and doctoral level study.

If you have a British Psychological Society (BPS) accredited BSc in Psychology, you could apply to do a taught doctorate in areas such as Educational Psychology (EdPsychD) or in Clinical Psychology (ClinPsychD) once you've successfully completed your Master’s.

Graduates of this course have gone onto roles such as:

  • Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) co-ordinator
  • SEND teacher
  • Student services officer
  • Enablement Leader
  • Support worker
  • Community care worker

Graduates of this course have gone on to work for:

  • Schools
  • Academy trusts
  • Local education authorities
  • Healthcare

Career outcomes shown are sourced from the latest available graduate outcome surveys. The data shows career outcomes at 15 months after graduation.

9 reasons to do a Master's

Career planning

During your course you'll have expert career support from your tutors and our Careers and Employability Centre – which you can access for up to 5 years after you graduate.

You'll benefit from:

  • Networking events
  • 1-to-1 appointments  
  • CV and cover letter advice
  • Interview preparation and practice
  • Workshops to enhance your employability skills
  • Recruitment events including the Student and Graduate Opportunities Fair
  • Support starting your own business

Learn more about your career support

Female student standing at careers and employability help desk

You'll benefit from:

  • Networking events
  • Applied projects with employers
  • 1-to-1 appointments
  • CV and cover letter advice
  • Interview preparation and practice
  • Workshops to enhance your employability skills
  • Recruitment events including the Student and Graduate Opportunities Fair
  • Support starting your own business


Learn more about your career support

Supporting you

Master's study is more focused on independent learning than undergraduate study, but you'll get lots of support via video and phone from teaching and support staff to enhance your learning experience and help you succeed. You can build your personalised network of support from the following people and services:

Types of support

Your personal tutor helps you make the transition to postgraduate study and gives you academic and personal support throughout your Master's.

As well as regular scheduled meetings with your personal tutor, they're also available at set times during the week if you want to chat with them about anything that can't wait until your next meeting.

You'll have help from a team of faculty learning support tutors. They can help you improve and develop your academic skills and support you in any area of your study.

They can help with:

  • improving your academic writing (for example, essays, reports, dissertations)
  • understanding and using assignment feedback
  • managing your time and workload
  • revision and exam techniques

As well as support from faculty staff and your personal tutor, you can use the University’s Academic Skills Unit (ASK) for one-to-one support in areas such as:

  • academic writing
  • note taking
  • time management
  • critical thinking
  • presentation skills
  • referencing
  • working in groups
  • revision, memory and exam techniques

Our online Learning Well mini-course will help you plan for managing the challenges of learning and student life, so you can fulfil your potential and have a great student experience.

You can get personal, emotional and mental health support from our Student Wellbeing Service, in person and online. This includes 1–2–1 support as well as courses and workshops that help you better manage stress, anxiety or depression.

If you require extra support because of a disability or additional learning need our specialist team can help you.

They'll help you to:

  • discuss and agree on reasonable adjustments
  • liaise with other University services and facilities, such as the library
  • access specialist study skills and strategies tutors, and assistive technology tutors, on a 1-to-1 basis or in groups
  • liaise with external services

Library staff are available in person or by email, phone or online chat to help you make the most of the University’s library resources. You can also request one-to-one appointments and get support from the faculty librarian for science.

The library is open 24 hours a day, every day, in term time.

If English isn't your first language, you can do one of our English language courses to improve your written and spoken English language skills before starting your degree. Once you're here, you can take part in our free In-Sessional English (ISE) programme to improve your English further.

The Maths Café offers free advice and assistance with mathematical skills in a friendly, informal environment. You can come to our daily drop-in sessions, develop your maths skills at a workshop or use our online resources.

How to apply

Unlike undergraduate applications, which go through UCAS, applications for this Master's course are made directly to us. 

There's no deadline for applications to this course. We accept applications right up until the start date in September, as long as there are places available. If you wait until September to apply, you may find that the course is full. 

You can find more advice about applying in our Master's application checklist. Current students and recent graduates of the University of Portsmouth and international students also have some different application options, which are detailed below. 

Extra information for international students

If you're an international student, you can apply directly to us using the same application form as UK students.

You could also get an agent to help with your application. Check your country page for details of agents in your region. To find out what to include in your application, head to the how to apply page of our international students section.

If you don’t meet the English language requirements for this course yet, you can achieve the level you need by successfully completing a pre-sessional English programme before you start your course.

Ready to apply?

Start this course in September 2024

Distance learning

Apply now (Part-time) – 2 years

I'm a current Portsmouth student, or a recent Portsmouth graduate

If you're currently in your final year of study at Portsmouth, or you graduated since July 2023, you're eligible to make a fast track application. You'll have:

  • a shorter application form to complete
  • access to the 20% Alumni fee discount
  • a guaranteed conditional offer, for most Master's courses 

Learn more about fast track

After you apply

Once we receive your application, we may ask you for further information. We will then either make you an offer or suggest alternatives if your application is unsuccessful.

You'll usually get a decision within 10 working days, so you shouldn't have to wait too long. Some courses have an interview stage – we'll let you know if you need to prepare for one.

Learn more about how we assess your application.

Admissions terms and conditions

When you accept an offer to study at the University of Portsmouth, you also agree to abide by our Student Contract (which includes the University's relevant policies, rules and regulations). You should read and consider these before you apply.