Googling "How To Be A Director of Digital Learning Initiatives”

Are you in a higher ed job that did not previously exist?

April 11, 2018

When I first got my current gig a couple of years ago, I may not literally have Googled, “How to be a director of digital learning initiatives?”.But that description of how prepared I was for the job, and how I tried to figure out how to do the work, would not be far off.

My guess is that I’m not the only one, given the option, who would have Googled how to do their new higher ed job.

New Jobs:

How many of you have job titles that didn’t previously exist at your institution? 

How many of you are in jobs where you are the first person on your campus to occupy that role?

The growth of digital learning and online education in general, and the MOOC bubble in particular, spawned all sorts of new jobs.  Everywhere I go I meet folks who have “innovation” and / or “digital” in their job titles.

I’s not like those of us in these roles had the opportunity to observe our predecessors. They didn’t exist. We are making things up as we go.

Our Education:

I wouldn’t trade my PhD for anything. Graduate school taught me how to think. Finishing a dissertation helped me realize that, if nothing else, I have stamina.

We should admit, however, that a PhD in a traditional discipline may not be the world’s best preparation for higher ed gigs at the intersection of technology, learning, and organizational change.

My dream - and it is a dream I share with a few close colleagues - is that someday we will figure out how to train our replacements.  That we will create research on where digital learning innovation and postsecondary evolution come together. That we will build robust theoretical frameworks and develop a set of generally accepted research methodologies. And that we will start PhD programs to train the next generation of scholar-practitioners.

Until that happens, we should own up to the fact that our own training (while wonderful), may have not left us totally prepared for our jobs.

Leading Change:

A defensible case could be made that a graduate education in a traditional discipline is good training for our non-traditional jobs.

The argument would be that things are changing so quickly in learning science, technology, and organizational pressures (economics, demographics, competition, etc.), that no graduate program could prepare anyone for today’s higher ed digital learning / innovation leadership roles.

What is better, according to this argument, is if the folks in these new jobs acquire a set of generalizable skills. These may include the collaboration, communication, and empathy abilities that largely determine one’s ability to drive organizational change.  A healthy does of growth-mindset thinking and resilience doesn’t hurt.

Sure, that makes some sense. But couldn’t those skills be taught more explicitly to future postsecondary leaders - rather than acquired through the gauntlet of the traditional PhD program?

Wouldn’t it be good to teach those who will lead future change in higher ed something about the higher education system?

If the job today is about managing and leading change, shouldn’t we be teaching people how to manage and lead change?

How did your training prepare you, or not, for your current job?

If you were going to teach a course about what you do in higher education, what would that course be about?

Did you find yourself Googling how to do your job?


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