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7 Things That (Perhaps) Define a Learning Technologist
August 30, 2009 - 8:53pm

The idea of this blog is to serve as a platform for conversation and debate among learning technologists and those with which we work. I believe that we are in the process of creating, defining and building a new discipline, and that in the future learning technology will be viewed as an applied academic discipline. But I could be wrong.

Who is a learning technologist?

What follows are some attributes that I think tie us together as a discipline. I look forward to hearing about the attributes I missed or just got plain wrong.

1. We spend a great deal of our time working with course management systems (CMS), predominantly Blackboard, Moodle, WebCT, Angel, Sakai etc. The CMS is in one of the most important windows that we see the world. Right away I know I'm going to get push-back on this from colleagues who work on media projects, library systems, classroom based technologies, lecture capture systems, Web site development and authoring tools. I agree that learning technologists, or learning designers, use all these tools and more. Still, it is my assertion that the CMS binds us together more then any other single tool, and the rise of the CMS has a campus mission critical application parallels (and has perhaps driven) the growth of our profession.

2. We learning technologists share a healthy skepticism towards the dominant commercial CMS, Blackboard. Put another way, our relationship with Blackboard is often ambivalent. Philosophically, I think many of us are drawn to open and community source platforms and business models. There is an important conversation going on in our profession about the advantages of sticking with Blackboard as our campus CMS (which there are many), versus moving in larger numbers to an open source alternative (with Moodle getting the most traction lately). This conversation will continue to dominate our profession.

3. We are adherents to the church of constructivism. Many of us got the faith later in our careers, and we tend to share the passion of the convert. Perhaps this is a bit oversold. Remember, I'm trying to get you to disagree with me. But I would argue that us learning technologists are coming to share a common theoretical shorthand around the importance of active learning and student-centered courses. We see the lecture system of teaching as a remnant of a pre-Guttenberg economy and social order of information scarcity. We believe that people learn by doing, by creating, and that the lecture system of passive note-taking and information regurgitation is about the poorest method for learning ever invented.

4. We walked a wide and varied path to arrive at our profession. While many of us received graduate degrees in instructional or learning design, just as many of us are not formally trained in the discipline. My background is a social scientist, my colleague got her PhD in French Literature. We may have been teachers in secondary or primary schools, corporate trainers, software developers, public health specialists or English literature graduate students before ending up in our current learning design gigs. From my experience it seems that the diversity in our backgrounds defines us more than our similarities. I'd also say from personal experience that those of us not trained in our discipline heavily lean on our colleagues with actual degrees in what we do to teach us the theoretical and pedagogical fundamentals necessary to do our jobs.

5. We belong to professional organizations and attend conferences in educational technology rather then in the discipline that we originally trained. For me, this means significant involvement with EDUCAUSE, including being an ECAR Fellow and attendance at the EDUCAUSE and ELI annual conferences. What are the other professional organizations and conferences that you participate in? The journals we read, the websites and blogs we scan, and the podcasts we listen to also focus on learning technology as opposed to a specific academic discipline. I read the EDUCAUSE Review and scan http://www.insidehighered.com/ and http://chronicle.com, and struggle to keep up with all the blogs and podcasts focussing on the intersection of education and technology. Like most of us, I assume that the amount of material in our discipline is becoming too large to fully cover, and each day is spent trying to triage what is most important and relevant for our work.

6. We are generalists in an age of hyper-specialization. To thrive as a learning technologist it is necessary to work with professional colleagues across academic disciplines and with technical, library, media and other administrative colleagues of varying temperaments and expertise. We like working across our institutions, getting to know folks who are passionate experts in their specialized fields. We enjoy learning about many different things, and try to bring that enthusiasm for learning to the process of designing, developing and supporting virtual and physical learning environments.

7. We believe in the future. I'm ending my short list on this note (I could go on and will in future posts), as I think our future orientation is perhaps the most important element that defines us and binds us together. We believe that through the application of sound learning principles and appropriate technologies that we can be part of the process of fundamentally improving the construction and delivery of higher education (or perhaps also corporate training and non-credit courses). We see ourselves as innovators whose mission is to challenge a status quo of faculty/lecture centric courses. We believe in the power of education to transform the world. We think we have the best jobs in academia.

 

 

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