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.