In my first blog post, I thought I would explore the role of a Learning Technologist, what is was, what it is and what I think it will be. I think it is sometimes very misunderstood or not defined. With such an array of job roles, titles, and hence salaries, this post looks at what exactly a Learning Technologist does.
What is a Learning Technologist? The Association for Learning Technology (ALT), who for UK based Learning Technologists are our go to body for all these Learning and Technology related, they define it as
“Learning technology is the broad range of communication, information and related technologies that can be used to support learning, teaching, and assessment.
Learning technologists are people who are actively involved in managing, researching, supporting or enabling learning with the use of learning technology.
A very wide range of people in industry and in private and public sector education have learning technology as a core part of their role: you do not have to be called or to call yourself a learning technologist to be one!”
What does this mean in every day practice? From my experience and talking to the many Learning Technologists (or those who have a Learning Technology flavour to their roles, note the last line from the ALT definition above, I will come back to the professionalism aspect of the role later in my blog posts this year), it can be very different, largely based on your institution, department and line manager and depending on where you are, determines which one of these factors play the dominate role in defining what you do from day to day. Of course, the role is also flexible and self guided to a degree, again the above mentioned factors play their part.
From my own experience it’s been an almost 50-50 split between what the institutions wants me to do (the bread and butter aspects of the role which can largely be called administration and other more technical systems aspects of the role) and what I can bring to the role via projects (the exciting things such as work with subject method experts on interesting projects), but I know some that have not been as fortunate.
I believe that there are broadly three types of Learning Technologist, the first is at the technical end, almost sitting in the ICT / Computer Services department, this role would be the “managing” aspect of ALT’s definition . The second is that of an Academic Developer, someone who produces things, with the skills broadly similar to a web designer (Adobe packages, video production, HTML, CSS etc), but of course with a pedagogical understanding. The third and final one is one that is reaching out into the wider pond, that of educational development and is one that sits in an educational development, learning and development or equivalent department.
This type of Learning Technologist may be more of an adviser / trainer role, where the skills of development maybe used in creating prototypes of Learning Technology for others to use or do themselves and where pedagogical understanding enables the learning, teaching or assessment to take place (also part of ALT’s definition). In reality, due to funding, size of institution or similar roles, the Learning Technologist will probably be doing a mixture of all three types.
Many Learning Technology roles actually came about as a result of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) funding in mid 2000s and in some Universities, these roles were based in the Computer Services or equivalent department and hence helped shape the perception of these institutions about the role of a Learning Technologist. In other Universities, these roles stemmed from a more pedagogical area. My own view is that the latter is more effective in embedding Learning Technology in programmes as a bake in, not a bolt one approach because it comes from a need than a technology.
To answer the question, we also need to look at the skills that are present in individuals who are undertaking the role. People come into the role from web design, a subject specialism such as Bioscience or a Languages degree, a PhD with an Learning Technology focus or from a purely programming or analyst background. I have seen a big variation in these, from the basic use of Learning Technology to that of a web designer. This is true from the pedagogical side too. I think as this field involves in the next decade, we may find a clearer blue print of what the key attributes of a Learning Technologist should be. These are emerging at the moment in some institutions.
Why is this important you might be thinking? The simple answer is that, whether academia likes it or not, technology is and will continue to be a significant and growing factor to enabling learning and teaching to happen in higher education institutions, so getting this key role / area of Learning Technology right. Used in a strategic way, Learning Technologists will help everyone and make the institutions that do this more efficient in the long run.