What is a Learning Technologist (part 2)?

David Hopkins, Learning Technologist

This is a question I always seem to be thinking about, probably because it’s something I get asked quite a bit.

We’re a month into the new Academic Year, we have new students at all levels of study and ages as well as new staff, also at all levels of capabilities, ages, and background. As soon as I introduce myself as a Learning Technologist they nearly all look perplexed and ask … “what’s one of them then?”

I typed out some thoughts back in August 2009 (in readiness for the start of that new Academic Year) in my post “What is a Learning Technologist?” and had a few replies through the blog as well as through Twitter. Not everyone liked or agreed with me, some people saw the similarity in roles between different Institutions and the different names we are sometimes called; Education(al) Technologist, Instructional Designer, etc.

So, what has changed? Well, nothing much other than I am clearer in my own mind what I am. This has come about purely by doing the work, talking about the work and reading about what other people in a similar position to me around the world are doing and talking about. To this end Twitter has proved to be a vast tool and ‘staffroom’ whereby I can get answers to all sorts of questions, and obtain insight into other Institutions ordinarily blocked to me.

I have also enjoyed reading the post on the eLearn Magazine website by Sirin Soyoz:  “Identifying e-Learning Technologists” (link updated April 2012) – please read it.

As per usual with me there are key quotes I’d like to bring to your attention;

“Education has seen big changes, many of which have been technology-driven: the rise of online collaboration tools, the expanding role of e-learning, sophisticated learning-management systems, and new communication tools. There has been a greater need for learning technologists to step in and help communities benefit from technology. The role of learning technologists is essential to integrate new technologies and education.”

This is especially important in recent weeks considering the proposed changes to the UK education in the Browne Review and future of UK University funding. Will higher fees mean fewer students, or more students Earn while they Learn (online programmes could be the future for traditional face-to-face Universities, in which case LTs are going to be extremely valuable!!).

“They [LTs] perform multiple roles and are responsible for many activities such as establishing e-networks, providing support for learning through technology, management, research, providing technical assistance, online tutoring and developing e-learning materials.”

Yes we do, and we’re not always the first people academics or administrative staff think to go to to help work out these issues, but we’re here and need to be used if we’re to still be here next year.

We are not IT specialists, and not normally part of the IT Team, but we have and need a good working knowledge of IT systems and applications. We are not academic either, but have (and need) a solid understanding of what the academic staff need to do in order to suggest the best or new way of achieving their goal … which, when talking about teaching, is always going to impact the student experience somehow.

Sirin brings some excellent quotes together from LTs (as I call us) around the UK and has come up with the following ‘key’ roles – I won’t re-publish them in full, only the ones I think are important (to me and my work);

  • The work of learning technologists can be embedded in different roles …  such as management, development, research, marketing, decision-making, providing technical support, administration, and training levels.
  • The nature of the profession is distant from a technical support service but more strategically, developmental, social and managerial.
  • Learning technologists should definitely have broad knowledge of the current technologies and learning process.
  • Willingness to learn and share with other colleagues and stakeholders are important characteristics.
  • Learning technologists create opportunities and influence policy by following educational trends.
  • There is an emerging pedagogical focus along with online learning phenomenon.
  • The work is dynamic and varied; therefore professional development is crucial to keep up with the new technologies and trends.
  • Staff support and continuing development are essentials for organizational success in the field.

This last one is possibly my favourite …

  • … learning technologists’ core professional values are excellence in education, student learning, building networks, focusing on change, innovation, commitment to disseminate good practice, and understanding the relationship between technology and learning.

Learning Technologists are, as I’ve mentioned above already, not always located in the same place in the Institution’s structure; sometimes we’re employed and work in a specific School (like me), sometimes there is a shared ‘pool’ of knowledge in the IT Team(s), and sometimes we are split between LTs that have student, staff or research specific areas of responsibilities. What is common is the need to keep abreast of technology changes, new pedagogical styles and approaches, and to have a relationship with, and be professional with, the people we work with; whether that is other LTs, students, or academic/administrative staff. That is where we can make the difference.

“To provide excellence in educational services which reflects on the quality of service they offer and their operations.”

Do you see yourself in the above anywhere? Please share youer experiences of being a Learning technologist, or working with one, by leaving a comment below.

  • Preamble: Any views or opinions expressed are solely mine and do not necessarily represent those of Edge Hill University.

    Hi David. Thanks for this posting – it has been of interest to me and my colleagues. I have a keen interest in the role of a Learning Technologist – fuelled by papers such Shurville et al. (2009) that echo many of the points above. I found their paragraph beginning “Educational technologists have incredibly varied skills …” (pp212) the most interesting / thought provoking. Perhaps LTs need to bang their drums a little harder. As Shurville et al. conclude (2009:218) “…the systemic weakness regarding the institutional role of educational technologists is a pressing challenge for HE.” I’d be interested in further discussions around these issues.

    David Callaghan

    Shurville, S., Browne, T. and Whitaker, M. (2009) Accommodating the newfound strategic importance of educational technologists within higher education. Campus-Wide Information Systems, 26 (3) 201-231.


    • David – Many thanks for the comment, and the link to the Shurville paper is brilliant. As technology changes, as well as the academic and student profile of the Institution, I’m sure this discussion will go on and on – the role of an LT is exactly what we choose it to be; technical, pedagogical or otherwise.

      All the best, David

  • Hey David! I can totally relate to that question. That “deer in the headlights” look when you tell someone your job title.

    A couple years ago I came across a piece Janet Clarey wrote about learning professionals and it got me thinking too. Here’s what I had to say about it :) http://www.learnnuggets.com/2008/10/whats-in-a-job-title/

    • Kevin – Nice link, thanks.

      All the best, David.

  • Dave Appleby

    Thanks for this David,

    What’s in a name? I’m an ‘e-Learning consultant’ working with schools and everyone assumes I’m there to sell IT. But the more I discover about e-Learning the stronger my focus on pedagogy. Sometimes I find myself explaining that a particular technique is easier and just as effective to do without IT than with. Perhaps I should rebrand myself as a ‘Learning Technologist’ (except I think I might be directed to the woodwork department).

    PS: I so agree about Twitter; I found your blog through a paper.li daily summary of #elearning twitter posts.

    • Dave – I cannot think where I would be without Twitter now; it has opened up so many doors that I didn’t even know I was looking for or missing!

      I am slowly coming to the realisation that I am able to shape the direction of my Learning Technologist career (if I want a career in it) and that I don’t have to blindly follow the direction that any traditional concept of a Learning Technologist must take.

      Does this still make me a Learning Technologist? Probably, as I have to fit my round peg into the Institution’s square hole (if you pardon the pun).

      All the best, David

  • Peter Merchant

    When I think about this, you are one of the only groups that are happy to call themselves Technologists. Most other ‘trades’ now seem to call their workers ‘engineers’, which those of us with a qualification and a Royal Charter in engineering think is unfair as it downgrades the stigma of the title ‘Engineer’.

    (For ‘Trades’ and ‘Stigmas’ insert the correct word!)

    In my Education, I did a two year stint at an Institute of technology (BCIT) to earn the right to call myself an Electronics Technologist. I followed this up with five years at UBC to get a degree and call myself an engineer, and qualify for registration with the Association of Professional Engineers.

    So- Long Live the Technologists!

    • Peter – Thanks for your comment, a pleasure as always.

      There should be no difference between our roles and titles but it is never going to be the case; as long as one person thinks they’ve above or different to someone else we’re always going to challenge the naming convention and want to be different. Thing is, I’ve got too much work to bother about the title I have, I know my worth and value to my job! I used to design websites (commercially) and I was always surprised at the length of time it took to decide on a name and the speed at which we flew through the rest of the process. A name is important, but not at the expense of the rest of the project, surely?

      All the best, David

  • Hi David,

    Many thanks for referring me in your post – good to hear positive feedback from colleagues.

    All the best,

    Sirin Soyoz

  • Antonio Ulbrich

    I really liked the article. It is always nice when you can not only be informed, but also entertained!

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  • Brandon Wong

    Thanks for sharing, you hit the right point, we are not part of IT and certainly not a teacher. We are the bridge for both party. Sometime we need to wear the hat as a project manager or Tech Support (specially SCORM courses).