Lockdown – Ep.6 Return of the Learning Designer

The third article in my series on living and working during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown takes a look at the work learning/instructional design, learning/education technology, etc is undertaking in these uncertain times.

Coming from a background in emerging internet technologies and into learning technology through a series of lucky chances and carefully planned changes, I have always called for considerate and appropriate use of technology to support students. I’ve been saying this for 13 years, and it seems I will continue to shout this from the rooftops for a long while yet.

Schools have closed and students of all ages are now online, looking for their ‘learning’. Much has already been written about these sudden changes and the decisions being made to somehow complete the move to online in a matter of days when it’s taken some institutions years.

Never has the need for stable and appropriate learning technology been taken so seriously, taken to heart and has been more appropriate and more needed than now. You cannot replicate a campus classroom learning experience by offering a recorded lecture. A recording or live lecture is but one aspect of the learning experience. You cannot replace a seminar with a skype, Zoom or Teams video call for the same reason. A PDF of your lecture notes is not the same as a well designed online course, one that encourages interaction, reflection, deep learning, engagement, etc. You cannot replace a revision session with an online poll/quiz. Yet this is what is being sent out to students of all ages?

The learning technologist, learning designer, educational developer (whatever you’re called) is key to making these changes. We are key to making the changes happen and key to making sure they make sense. I’ve written many times about what it means to be a Learning Technologist and Daniel Scott started this series on the ALT blog, asking the same question about what makes a Learning Technologist (expect the series to conclude shortly). It is our knowledge of both technology and good pedagogic principles that means we can recommend which tool to use, where and how to use it and, more importantly, why you should use it. Or not.

I’m sure there are many examples of classroom-based courses being put ‘online’ where a learning technologist has not been involved. I’m sure (and hope) there are also examples where you have been invited and involved. At an institutional level, I’m sure this relationship between us and academics isn’t well known, but at faculty and subject level it is, and it these relationships we’ve cultivated over the years that means we do have involvement and we have been able to make a difference.

Yes, everything is now accessible through an online ‘portal’, and that means using a good many more tools or websites or systems than the students have probably seen before. There are lots of YouTube channels that are also delivering lockdown content for all ages and many more MOOCs being released about working from home, how to keep work/home separate, etc. Has anyone stopped to ask the students what works for them?

Do students, adult students at any rate, actually want to continue with their studies at this time? If we were to just look at the cost of their studies, this is a major question for them. Would they like a break, come to terms with lockdown, possibly dealing with losing friends and family, and return to their studies at a time when we are able to be more mobile/active? This is the context of the learning that is happening at this time. We are continuing, as institutions, to either keep the cash flowing or to keep the ‘normal’ routine going in a very abnormal time. Throwing new technologies and websites and systems on our students will not help them, it’ll confuse them.

The learning technologist can bring knowledge and experience to all levels of these conversations, and should be the most important voice in the room (video call). Find your learning technologist/designer and make them your best friend

Photo by Rodion Kutsaev on Unsplash