IPD for e-learning professionals – a suggested way forward

How do ideas of professionalism and professional learning apply to those working in e-learning? Perhaps the most obvious problem is that there is at present no clear Initial Professional Development (IPD) for e-learning – no real body of knowledge that can be considered the “basis” for the profession, comparable what is learned by trainee doctors, lawyers, accountants and so on. This issue was addressed by Lisewski and Joyce (2003) who, while not using the term IPD, examined the need of learning technologists to establish their “legitimacy” and their “need to develop a knowledge base which, in particular, informs the process of learning and teaching online”.

They argued that the ‘five-stage e-moderating model’ (Salmon, 2003) had become a sort of de facto standard for learning technology, and accepted too uncritically as the approach to e-learning. In fact, there are a number of issues with the model, and the authors argue it should be treated as a useful starting point, but open to challenge, with different approaches needed in some situations.

Part of the issue here is the sheer range of roles, backgrounds and skills encompassed by terms like “learning technologist” and “e-learning professional”. ALT, the closest thing there is to a professional body in this area, is clearly struggling even to define the profession:

“Learning technologists are people who are actively involved in managing, researching, supporting or enabling learning with the use of learning technology.” (Association for Learning Technology, 2011a)

This is so broad as to be almost meaningless. There may be a few people left in education who don’t use learning technology, but there can’t be many. The variety was also highlighted by Gornall (1999), who examined the profession at an early stage of its development and also pointed out that they did not fit easily into university structures, lacking career progression opportunities and, often, permanent contracts.

ALT has attempted to create an entry point in the form of the CMALT designation (ALT, 2011b). This requires submission of a portfolio which shows evidence of capability in four core areas – 1) operational issues, 2) teaching, learning and/or assessment, 3) the wider context and 4) communication, plus one specialist option. Clearly the intention here is to have maximum flexibility, but the extreme flexibility creates problems. Those aspiring to the CMALT designation seem to find the process of reflection helpful, but are very unsure what constitutes “good enough” (Hopkins, 2011). The lack of transparency will reduce the extent to which this can really be seen as a rigorous qualification.

Perhaps these difficulties fundamentally reflect the immaturity of the profession – as Neal and Morgan (2000) helpfully remind us, professions do not spring into existence overnight. They develop over time, and in ways that reflect the culture and politics of their context.

A blueprint for a professional qualification

Over time, it may be possible to establish a more definite body of knowledge and skills that represent an “entry level”. We might even attempt to sketch an outline of what this body might look like, and therefore what might be included in the initial training. Perhaps, to be designated an e-learning professional, someone should be assessed in the following:

  1. Use of technology tools. There is a basic suite of tools anyone in e-learning should be familiar with – authoring tools such as Camtasia or Articulate, multimedia tools such as Audacity, social media tools such as WordPress and Twitter plus the standard VLEs. Those specialising in this area might be trained in coding software.
  2. A number of non-technical skills are also required to work successfully in e-learning. These will include an understanding of educational best practice, copyright / legal issues and communication skills that can be adapted to different contexts.
  3. Trust is integral to any profession, so e-learning professionals need to demonstrate that they understand the relevant ethical issues such as personal data, intellectual property and effective use of resources. CMALT seems particularly deficient in this area, as I noted in previous blog post

One objection to this approach might be that e-learning takes places in a very wide of contexts. E-learning professionals may be employed in schools, FE or HE colleges, specialist providers, training companies, in-house in training functions in public or private sector companies, or be self-employed consultants. However, there should still be enough common ground for common training. After all, the learners in each case are the same people at different stages of their life and development. Accountants go through similar training, and then apply these skills in organisations of any size and sector, whether private, public or not-for-profit.

Most professionals, once qualified, will choose to specialise in certain areas, which is why CPD needs to be flexible. Following their IPD, e-learning professionals will have a duty to keep their skills up to date in all the above areas, in a way that is appropriate for their current roles.

This is just a stab at sketching a way forward for the e-learning profession. I would love to know what others think.

Association for Learning Technology (2011a) What is Learning Technology? http://www.alt.ac.uk/about-alt/what-learning-technology (accessed 9 December 2011).

Association for Learning Technology (2011b) CMALT Prospectus (online), Oxford, CMALT. Available from: http://www.alt.ac.uk/sites/default/files/assets_editor_uploads/documents/prospectusA4_v5_web.pdf.

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. (2011), ‘Update: my CMALT portfolio #CMALT’, blog entry posted 11 October, 2011. Available from: http://www.dontwasteyourtime.co.uk/cmalt/my-cmalt-portfolio/ (accessed 9 December 2011).

Lisewski, B. and Joyce, P. (2003) ‘Examining the five-stage e-moderating model: Designed and emergent practice in the learning technology profession.’ Association for Learning Technology Journal, 11 (1). pp. 55-66. ISSN 0968-7769 Available from http://repository.alt.ac.uk/399/ (accessed 9 December 2011).

Neal, M. and Morgan, J. (2000) ‘The professionalization of everyone? A comparative study of the development of the professions in the United Kingdom and Germany’, European Sociological Review, vol. 16, no. 1, pp. 9-26. Available from: http://libezproxy.open.ac.uk/login?url=http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/esr/16.1.9 (accessed 9 December 2011).

Salmon, G. (2003) E-moderating: The Key to Teaching and Learning Online, London, Taylor & Francis.




Filed under H808 the eLearning Professional

2 responses to “IPD for e-learning professionals – a suggested way forward

  1. Your suggestions are interesting but you’ve missed out pedagogy – the most essential component in terms of defining professionalism, legitism and contributing towards establishing career progression (like our academic colleagues). Learning Technologists at my institution are required to complete the General Teaching Associates course and are also encouraged to do either PGCAP (Academic Practice) or PGCE – I suspect this is the case in most? Only through understanding the pedagogy can we properly advise others how technology can enhance learning. It’s great to see this discussion is ongoing btw :o)

  2. Hi Flea,

    Thanks for the comment. I mentioned “educational best practice” as one of the key skills and I think I meant something similar to what you mean by “pedagogy”. Undoubtedly an e-learning professional needs to understand this.

    A formal teaching qualification is obviously helpful, particularly in establishing credibility, although my hunch is that these qualifications tend to assume a model of education that is mostly or entirely face-to-face. When I was looking for a qualification that particularly focused on online/e-learning I could only find one – the OU course I am currently studying. So there may be scope for training that deals with teaching, or pedagogy if you like, with a particular focus on e-learning, that would form part of the IPD. This only exists in outline as yet – like I said in the post, these are early days.

    Does that make sense?

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