So what are Learning Technologists? Let’s start with the Association of Learning Technology (2011), who give this definition:
So are we all learning technologists now? Hands up anyone in education who doesn’t use technology.
More helpfully, Beetham et al (2001) studied roles which actually exist and identified three groups:
1) “New specialists”, young, multi-skilled and involved in the development of learning technology
2) “Academics and established professionals”, academics who have got involved with technology
3) “Learning support professionals” providing technical support
The second and third categories slot neatly into traditional categories of “academic” and “support” staff. It is the first group who seem to cause problems. The study paints a slightly depressing picture of these “new specialists”, often on short-term contracts, underpaid, under-recognised and with little career development. Gornall (1999) makes the fascinating point that these specialists are “marginal” in terms of university structures, (hence the short-term contracts). However, they are “powerful”, because they are aligned to a key strategic priority and may have access to senior management.
The “new specialists” have matured a bit since, we hope. They probably have permanent contracts, departments, but roles vary a lot and are hard to pin down. A recent attempt at a definition (Hopkins, 2009) ends up describing what he personally does. However, it concludes with an important aspect of the learning technologist’s role – being a champion for new technology and its potential to improve education. I agree, in fact in a previous blog post, I used the term “Missionaries from the future” to describe e-learning professionals – helping people to understand the potential of new technology and supporting them in using it. Maybe this helps in understanding what defines the role.
Association of Learning Technology (2011), What is Learning Technology? http://www.alt.ac.uk/about-alt/what-learning-technology (last accessed 8 November 2011)
Beetham, H., Jones, S. and Gornall, L. (2001) ‘Career development of learning technology staff: scoping study final report’ (online), JISC. Available from: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/uploaded_documents/cdss_final_report_v8.doc (last accessed 8 November 2011).
Gornall, L. (1999) ‘’New professionals’: Change and occupational roles in higher education,’ Perspectives: Policy and Practice in Higher Education, vol. 3, no.2, pp. 44-49
Hopkins, D. (2009) ‘What is a Learning Technologist?’, blog entry posted 13 August 2009. Available from http://www.dontwasteyourtime.co.uk/blogging/what-is-a-learning-technologist/ (last accessed 8 November 2011)