Where Will the Learning Innovation Community Gather?

Incumbents, upstarts or nowhere?

December 12, 2018

Where do learning innovation people gather?

What professional associations, organizations and networks will bring together and amplify the work of this community?

One challenge in answering these questions is our lack of a clear understanding of what learning innovation is.

Nowadays, many higher ed people working at the intersection of learning and technology have “innovation” in their titles. As far as I know, there is no “Association of Learning Innovators.”

Learning innovation people are not like chief information officers, heads of centers for teaching and learning, academic library deans or directors of academic computing. All of these academic leaders have established communities, legible career paths and a mostly understood set of institutional responsibilities.

Those of us who work in learning innovation are pretty much making things up as we go along -- see "Googling How to Be a Director of Digital Learning Initiatives." I have tried to provide some definitions of what we mean by learning innovation, but it is clear from the comments that our community has not yet reached a definitional consensus.

There are all sorts of questions that a learning innovation community of practice should be debating. These questions include such basics as what we do and who we are.

Is learning innovation a new academic discipline, or part of an existing professional practice?

Does the work of learning innovation transcend institutional type (private, public, small, large) and modalities of instruction (residential, online, blended)? Or do we have many different types of learning innovation and learning innovators?

The question is where a learning innovation community will coalesce. I see three possibilities:

Possibility No. 1: The Incumbents

Most higher ed people who identify as part of the learning innovation community (or discipline) are members of existing professional associations and groups.

For most of my higher ed career, my professional community of practice has centered around Educause and the Educause Learning Initiative (ELI). The Gates-funded Educause Leading Academic Transformation Community represents an effort, I think, to give the learning innovation community an identity and a home.

Campus learning innovation people are likely to be instructional designers, and many work in areas of blended and online education. There is a vibrant discussion of learning innovation occurring in associations such as UPCEA/National Council for Online Education (where I’m a fellow), the Online Learning Consortium (OLC) and WCET.

There are growing numbers of higher ed professionals who identify as learning innovators outside the ranks of educational technology, learning design and online education. Centers for teaching and learning are expanding their digital learning leadership responsibilities. (I’m based in my campus CTL, DCAL). Will POD become the home for learning innovators?

What about learning innovators based in academic libraries? (ACRL).

What established professional associations in which learning innovation people gather am I missing?

Possibility No. 2: The Upstarts

You could spend your life attending learning innovation conferences. Who among you has participated in, or plan to attend ASU+GSV, the Digital Pedagogy Lab (DPL), the Higher Education Innovation Summit, the LearnLaunch Institute, OpenEd, SOLA+R or SXSW EDU?

At all these gatherings the topic of learning innovation is debated, discussed and argued over. This list fails to count the convenings of subcommunities such as the edX consortium (Global Forum), the Coursera Partners conference and all the various open online gatherings.

Learning innovation is also discussed at vendor-sponsored events, such as InstructureCon, BbWorld and D2L Fusion.

There are grassroots emerging learning innovation communities such as HAIL (Harvesting Academic Innovation for Learners), the Leading Academic Innovation Network (LAIN) and ShapingEDU.

This list of new meetings, organizations, associations and events where learning innovation people gather is no doubt incomplete. Please share other groups and conferences.

Possibility No. 3: Everywhere and Nowhere

The third possibility, and the one that I’m worried will occur, is that the learning innovation community will continue to be fragmented. That learning innovators will flit from meeting to meeting, association to consortium, never quite finding our home.

The sheer number of events where important learning innovation conversations are occurring is overwhelming. The very luckiest higher ed people can only attend a couple of events per year, and most everyone else far less. Professional development funds are scarce, and they seem to grow scarcer each year.

The dispersal of the learning innovation community means that we have never been able to achieve critical mass. The lack of a shared language around learning innovation is at least in part a function of the fragmentation of this community across so many associations, events and convenings.

There are those among us who believe that the only way forward is to evolve the profession of learning innovation into an academic discipline. Some very smart people see risks in this approach.

It may be that the idea of learning innovation is too big for an association or a meeting, a network or a convening.

What is needed are books and journals in which the ideas of learning innovation can be debated and peer reviewed.

The learning innovation community of tomorrow may be found in new academic departments, embedded in schools of education or created anew in centers for teaching and learning.

Or maybe not.

Unless something changes, the learning innovation community will be consigned to gather everywhere -- and coalesce nowhere.

Do you identify as building your academic career in learning innovation?

Who are your learning innovation people?


Inside Higher Ed's Inside Digital Learning

Back to Top