What is a Learning Technologist? (part 3)

David Hopkins, Learning Technologist

Those of you who follow my blog, or follow me on Twitter (@hopkinsdavid), Academia.edu or LinkedIn, will know I continue to explore the role of Learning Technologists, and the discipline that is learning technology. Below are two links to my previous efforts in defining some of my thoughts:

In October 2010 I started studying the PG Cert Education Practice at Bournemouth University with a view to gaining valuable insight into the world in which I inhabit, support, and advise. I will post on the first two assignments at some time, but the final assignment is an ePortfolio of work (at the time of writing, June 2011, the marks are not back yet) and supporting evidence over the past year or so that fits the three themes, which are:

  1. Self-awareness and Self-evaluation: Evaluating Development Needs
  2. Managing Change: Response to Context
  3. Evidence-based Practice in Relation to Discipline Needs

It is not possible to replicate the whole ePortfolio here, nor do I want to (yet), but I wanted to share a few sections that reinforce my ‘journey’ as a Learning Technologist. These come from the final section of ‘evidence-based practice in relation to discipline needs’ (and associated references):

“The discipline of Learning Technology is changing and growing as new ideas for existing tools and systems are developed or as new systems are introduced – the advances in mobile computing and geo-location is introducing a new world of ‘tagging’ yourself and your ‘updates’ (Facebook), your ‘tweets’ (Twitter), and your photos (TwitPic, Flickr, Instagram, etc). Being a Learning Technologist also means we are not limited to just playing a supporting role, but we involved in the “broad range of communication, information and related technologies that can be used to support learning, teaching, and assessment” (Browne & Beetham, 2010, p6). This is our discipline and covers all aspects of subject areas from Health Care and Archaeology to Marketing or Computer Systems Designs.”

Browne, T. and Beetham, H. 2010. The positioning of educational technologists in enhancing the student experience. Project Report. Association of Learning Technology and The Higher Education Academy. Available from:http://repository.alt.ac.uk/id/eprint/831. [Accessed May 25, 2011].

“One aspect of my role that I have found invaluable is that I am able to bring my commercial background in web design and Internet technologies, as well as time as an employee and owner/manager of a small business, to the varied subject areas I support in the School; accounting, management, finance, law, contract, marketing, etc. It is this background that has given me the time to develop a professionalism that I pride myself with that has enabled invitations from different teams within the School, and other Schools, to be involved in teaching, research and projects. The concluding statements in the work by Neurmann et all (2002) state that a steady growth in staff development “has typically involved the central provision of short-courses … divorced from the specificities of the everyday academic context” but a “faculty-based [or] departmentally based provision could give promise of enhancing reflective practice, drawing on a recognition of specific cognitive and cultural factors rather than concentrating on generic teaching skills and presentational techniques.” I have found a School (departmentally)-based approach is able to factor a growth of a closer personal relationship with an academic or team and their subject area to be more valuable than a ‘point-and-click’ approach to the introduction of new tools and systems.”

Neumann, R., Parry, S., and Becher, T. 2002 Teaching and Learning in their Disciplinary Contexts: a conceptual analysis. Studies in Higher Education. 27(4). p405-417. Available from: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=7362300&site=eds-live&scope=site. [Accessed May 25, 2011].

“Work by Browne & Beetham (2010, p6) highlights the impact technology enhanced learning has as a “major driver for enhancing the student experience”, but they acknowledge that literature is “relatively silent” on the role and impact Learning Technologist’s have on such objectives. Through my own day-to-day experiences I have found myself being invited to be involved in research, projects, presentations, workshops, conferences, etc that I would not normally expect to be asked to; I attribute this to my open and willing attitude and cultural change within the Business School that has improved relationships between myself and framework teams, and the understanding of the role a Learning Technologist. Questions on where a Learning Technologist should be “positioned” is a difficult one, say Browne & Beetham (2010, p13) which received mixed responses when they asked, and one I can see both sides to the argument; are we positioned in the School so we can maximise the relationships and knowledge of the disciplines of those we support, or are we a central resource that are shared among many different subject disciplines and School, but get the benefit of being kept up to date with system changes/updates? In my view there are positives and negatives to both arguments, but a School-based Learning Technologist has the best of the ‘local’ knowledge and the best of the collaborative environment a central position can offer, if working in a collaborative environment. The discipline of learning technology and the individuals who are part of this growing professional ‘group’, according to Peacock et al (2009), can have a valuable influence on all aspects of, for example, eResearch as we can demonstrate the role of support to help researchers “make informed decisions about whether and how to use e-learning tools to conduct qualitative e-research” and that a “more inclusive model of the Learning Technologist’s role in academia could help address the potential polarisation of the profession into researchers and practitioners”.”

Browne, T. and Beetham, H. 2010. The positioning of educational technologists in enhancing the student experience. Project Report. Association of Learning Technology and The Higher Education Academy. Available from:http://repository.alt.ac.uk/id/eprint/831. [Accessed May 25, 2011].

Peacock, S., Robertson, A., Williams, S, and Clausen, M. 2009. The Role of Learning Technologists in Supporting E-Research, ALT-J: Research in Learning Technology, 17(2). pp115-129. Available from: http://www.informaworld.com/openurl?genre=article&id=doi:10.1080/09687760903033041 [Accessed May 25, 2011].

I conclude the portfolio saying that:

“the opportunity to reflect on the past year(s) has given me greater insight into my role within the Business School and wider Bournemouth University community, but also how I am able to shape the discipline of learning technology from workshops, research, and conversations I am involved in, and by engaging with like-minded professionals through social networks like Twitter and LinkedIn. From this reflection I am able to concentrate my work and reading with a view to develop my professional practice.”

My journey
I have been on a journey during this PG Cert course,. Not all of it has been pleasant but I have enjoyed it and realised that I don’t like the ‘getting by’ mentality: when I do something I like to do it properly and see it through to the end. The struggle has been finding a balance between work and home life AND being a student again. There were times when one had to be sacrificed, and it was always my studies and assignments that suffered. I am not sorry for this, just disappointed that, at times, I wasn’t able to put the effort and dedication I know I am capable of into my studies.

What next?
Well, I don’t know where I am going to go now, assuming I get the grades to pass (finger’s crossed) but there are many avenues open to me: further studies, CMALT application and accreditation (definitely), etc. One thing is certain: I have started something here I want to see grow and to see where it can take me, my work, and my job/discipline. As they say “watch this space …  !”

Please feel free to leave a comment about the above or about your experience as a Learning Technologist, or your experience of working with us.

  • David, I’ve read these at a sitting and it’s good to see some of ‘the journey’.  Guess the grade is good ;)

    Any thoughts on how soon ‘technologist’ will be lost from the job description/course description? In my own terminology, I’m a learning designer working from programme idea to rectifying ‘this activity doesn’t work!’ – and that includes finance, marketing, delivery and use, validation, etc.  Technologies are just an integral part of all of that.  The world really needs VLE geeks to sort out the practical aspects of ‘the technology’ and computer-programming (and those geeks are worth very good salaries!) but isn’t what you describe you do and what I say I do more an art than a technology?  It just happens to be an art that requires understanding and integration of a lot of computer programs.

    • Anonymous

      Hi Gillian.

      Thanks for this … I don’t know the mark yet but have many digits crossed!

      I have often thought about the ‘title’ we are given, or choose for ourselves, and have wondered if it makes any difference? Some people know and understand the work of an educational technologist, for example, but are unsure if it is the same or something else when they come across an instructional (learning) designer or even a learning technologist. Considering the variety of individuals, backgrounds, needs, Institutions, approach, etc, the work we do (as highlighted in my PLN on Twitter, LinkedIn, etc) means we are all different, we are working on similar yet different projects, and accomplish similar, yet different, outcomes. This is how we are growing as a profession, this is how we are growing as individuals within it.

      It is this variety in the role that I enjoy, and keeps me coming back for more each day.

      All the best, David

    • Anonymous

      Also, I consider the technology to be secondary to the pedagogic need to achieve a certain goal/outcome for or with the stakeholders (student, staff, network, system, accountants). If the requirement is to incorporate technology then consider the outcome then this, for me, is very wrong – you are trying to fit a square peg in the round hole. You (we) should be identifying a need and then applying an “appropriate” and “considered” solution.

      Does this make sense?

      All the best, David

      • I completely agree, we need to start with the learning objectives, the focus must be on the pedagogy not the technology.  I am perfectly willing to talk people out of using a technological approach if it’s not an “appropriate” and “considered” solution.  I hate the idea of using some cool new technology that will dazzle learners where, in fact, a much simpler approach would be a better solution.  

        • Anonymous

          Thank you Catherine, have a good evening.

          All the best, David

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  • Marcus

    Hi David

    Random question, but what title do you put down as your ‘job’ when applying for car insurance? I don’t feel that IT technician describes what we do, nor do I feel that any job listed accurately describes us.

    • Anonymous

      Hi Marcus. To be honest it’s usually a long search through their database and is something like an ‘education technician’ or ‘classroom technician’, but it is easier to go with ‘IT Professional’. So far I’ve not had a job that fits easily into an insurance company’s structure – the best was when I tried to get them to list me as a ‘senior petrophysical data manager’, when that was what I was!

      All the best, David

  • Benhenderson84

    Hi David,
    Ive just been given the role of Learning Technologist at a local college and have so many ideas of what can be improved here.  Any advice for someone who is new to the role.  (Im currently in the middle of the PCET too).