It is now 14 years since I joined a profession. Having passed some exams and gained some experience, I had a firm handshake from the President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales and was in the club. Reflecting on my experience since then, which has recently included teaching others hoping to enter the same profession, I think the defining characteristics of a professional look something like this:
• They are people who the public need to trust to some degree – and professionals need to act in a way that does not jeopardise their trust
• They can be expected to show a much higher standard of competence in their field than a non-professional (this is formally recognised in laws relating to negligence)
• They have a clear entry process which includes some assessment of competence and experience, separate to the recruitment process for any given employer
• They are members of a formal professional body which regulates them and can allow anyone dealing with them to check their credentials
• They are required to keep their knowledge and skills up to date
• They are expected to adhere to a clear code of ethics, with formal sanctions available if they do not
Schoolteachers, say, do seem to meet all these criteria. It is less clear that academics or corporate trainers do, let alone a group as varied as those working with e-learning. All of this assumes a view of “professional” that some people on my course call “Big P”. There is another use of the word “professional” which simply means trying to do your job as well as possible, in particular treating others with respect and fairness. With this use of the term, anyone can and should do their job in a “professional” manner, whether they are an educator, an executive, a receptionist or anything else.
So if the language of being a professional doesn’t really work for those of us involved with e-learning, what does? To my surprise, when I wrote my previous (slightly tongue in cheek) blog post expressing concerns about the take-up of new technology, I very naturally lapsed into the language of religion. And I am not the only one to be heading this way. A recent, very thoughtful post from a fellow student talked about the potential of social good that technology can bring to learning. One of the most followed experts on e-learning on Twitter describes himself as an “e-learning evangelizer”.
Surely this is the most useful way to think about those of us who understand the potential of technology to improve teaching and learning and want to put it into action. We are not so much professionals as evangelists, missionaries from the future. It’s a tough calling – we need a good understanding of both learning and technology, we need to showcase the best use of technology in our own lives and work, we need to be constantly developing our own skills and we need to spread the word, so that others can also realise the benefits technology can offer in their teaching and learning.
“The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed”, William Gibson