What are Learning Technologists? (Unit 5)

Core Activity5.5: The profession of learning technologist.

Although I’ve struggled to see a distinct profession of ‘elearning’ I did recognise the role of Learning Technologist, or at least the job title.

The readings this week (Oliver, 2002; Beetham et al., 2001, Lisewski & Joyce, 2003) have given me a better insight into the role and also the challenge for learning technology to be recognised as a profession. So far I’ve haven’t read more widely, so my thinking is influenced by papers from nearly 10 years ago.

What do they do?
Learning Technologists (LT) were seen as the ‘new specialists’ from the research by Beetham and colleagues, located either centrally or departmentally within institutes. They also defined two other groups with some level of involvement:

  • Academics and established professionals – ‘with an interest or formal responsibility for learning technologies as part of their professional identify’ (c.10% of academics in an institute).
  • Learning support professionals – ‘those in non-academic roles supporting access to and effective use of learning technologies’ (e.g. library professionals and technical support roles).

LTs have a variety of backgrounds and experience which they bring to the role, which is itself varied. Beetham identified ‘keeping up with developments in learning technologies’ as core, with other activities being ‘educational, developmental, strategic, inter-personal and communicative, but not technical’. LTs themselves didn’t see the technical aspect as key, learning new technologies was something they themselves tended to pick up very quickly, so wasn’t seen as a core area.

Oliver highlighted the collaborative aspect of the role (within HE) where the LT would collaborate with an academic on a specific technology-related project. The LT needed to learn about the discipline in which a project was based, which was achieved through situative learning in the context of the academic department. This also enabled the LT to have an informal tutoring role of the academic, initially in the more technical aspects of implementation of a technology solution but moving this on to the bigger picture of educational issues. The focus on pedagogy and student experience by the LT seemed to be key, although not always readily recognised or acknowledged by the academic community.


Learning Technology as a profession
This paper also highlighted the struggle for Learning Technologists to gain recognition as a legitimate profession, particularly amongst the academic community where academic credentials are the norm and where they wanted to be seen as more than just a service provider.

Oliver described a ‘tension between the marginal nature of the posts and their importance in terms of institutional change.’ Individuals described a high level of autonomy in the role but ultimately little authority or responsibility, even though the success (or not) of a project would reflect on them and was a core element of strategic plans for the institute.

Lisewski & Joyce discussed the damage that some approaches to technology-enhanced learning can do for the profession, when models or frameworks that are accepted within the LT community are applied in a setting where they may not be the best approach. If this leads to a bad learner experience this can reflect badly on the profession itself.

This paper was interesting as it applied the ‘Five-stage e-moderating model’ by Salmon (2000) to an online training course on e-moderating for academics, allowing them to be on the receiving end of what they will deliver to their students. I readily identified with some of the key findings from participant feedback when compared with my experience on this and other modules:

  • The five-week timescale (a week alloted to each of the stages) was too restrictive – the same on this course, activities are allocated on a weekly basis which can be a challenge to keep up with.
  • Having fallen behind it was hard to catch up – it always is!
  • It was too difficult to change the focus of the course as new ideas arose – always a challenge, although this can be moderated via tutor groups/forums.
  • The balance of activities was problematic  – this can be an issue, especially when an assignment deadline is also approaching!
  • The course did not take into account individual learning styles – always difficult, a one-size-fits-all approach is known not to work, but it’s also hard to satisfy everyone’s individual preferences . . .

The structured approach was at odds with the pedagogy of the course, being seen as too rigid to encourage reflection on the learning. The warning was that as the evidence-base develops for learning technologists, there is the danger that models and frameworks can dominate, becoming standardised in practice or even commercialised, leading to a prescribed approach rather than a flexible and responsive approach to teaching and learning. They also warned of the danger that the profession could be driven by the need to find quick and easy solutions.

This paper also discussed the desire for LTs to gain recognition and legitimacy as a profession, offering an alternative source of pedagogic expertise, although academics may feel threatened by this. Their success was described as being partly dependent on ‘establishing their credentials’.

Professional Development for LTs
The papers by Oliver and Beetham highlighted that LTs had very little formal training or professional development opportunities, developing their knowledge through informal,
on-the-job ‘learning by doing’ and through informal activities as a community of practitioners.

Aspects of their development were described by Oliver as ‘expert learning’, through the process of developing their understanding and knowledge of the academic discipline, student needs and the context in which they are collaborating. A process which is adapted and applied each time a new collaboration begins.

Part of their role is as educator for their academic co-collaborator, via an ‘informal tutoring process’ of learning and teaching through discourse, using case studies to illustrate and support their proposals, leading academics to reflect on their assumptions and issues that arise as a project develops.

Further reflections…
Colleagues on this module, many of whom I would see fitting into the academics and established professionals category, with an interest or formal responsibility for learning technologies as part of their professional identify, have voiced their desire for this aspect of their role to be recognised alongside their discipline specific, research and teaching responsibilities.

I questioned whether studying the modules or the complete MA ODE which we are studying would lead to recognition.

I won’t get any recognition as an eLearning professional from the qualification as most people won’t know what it means!  The qualification is the means but the recognition only comes from the awarding body in my humble. (Katie, tutor group forum)

Others hoped that the commitment to this course would be acknowledged in some way, and lead to recognition of some level of expertise as an ‘elearning professional’. It’s clear that the challenge of gaining recognition of professional expertise applies to those where elearning may only be part of their role, as much as to those more explicitly dedicated to it, such as the Learning Technologist.

Now I just need to go and delve into the more recent literature . . .

References:
Beetham, H., Jones, S. and Gornall, L. (2001) ‘Career development of learning technology staff: scoping study final report’ (online), JISC. Available from: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/uploaded_documents/cdss_final_report_v8.doc

Lisewski, B. and Joyce, P. (2003) Examining the fivestage emoderating model: Designed and emergent practice in the learning technology profession. Association for Learning Technology Journal, 11 (1). pp. 55-66. ISSN 0968-7769

Oliver, M. (2002) ‘What do learning technologists do?’ (online), Innovations in Education and Teaching International, vol. 39, no. 4, pp. 245–52. Available from: http://libezproxy.open.ac.uk/login?url=http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13558000210161089 (

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About Mel B

Residing on the edge of the Cotswolds enjoying the great outdoors and getting creative, inbetween studying the Open University taught Masters in Online and Distance Education (MAODE).
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