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This year Georgetown University is launching a new Master of Arts in Learning and Design (MLD).  It is a great thing any time a university commits to training the next generation of instructional designers, educational technologists, and non-faculty educators. The Georgetown program looks to be particularly innovative, with an interdisciplinary curriculum coupled with specialized tracks in learning design, technology innovation, learning analytics, and higher education leadership.

The reason that I’m excited about this program -- and the reason that I think that all of us who work in Centers for Teaching and Learning (CTLs) and departments of Academic Computing should also be excited -- is the program’s integration with Georgetown’s Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS)

Before I share more of my thoughts about why I think Georgetown’s MLD program is such a big deal for all of us across higher education working at the intersection of learning and technology, I want to make some disclosures. Not only am I a fan of the approach that Georgetown is taking to launch a degree program in learning and design from a CTL, but I have also been part of a group of colleagues from other institutions that Eddie Maloney, the Executive Director of CNDLS, has brought together to advise on this new degree program.  

In gathering his colleagues together from other institutions, Eddie has asked us: “Who are the types of instructional designers that you’d like to be able to recruit to come work on your campuses?” He has then taken this feedback -- this market intelligence -- back to Georgetown to inform the internal design process of the program. 

This new Master of Arts in Learning and Design is the only degree program that I know of that has started, and will be stewarded by, a Center for Teaching and Learning. This is huge.

The reason that this is such a big deal is that Georgetown is leading the evolution of learning design from an academic profession to an academic discipline. For the first time, a CTL will be combining the role of a campus service organization -- one that partners with faculty to advance learning -- with the role of training the next generation of practitioners.  

At many CTLs there is already the practice, culture, and orientation common to academic departments. This is reflected in the fact that academic norms of scholarship and knowledge creation -- including peer review and a value on generating and sharing methodologically rigorous research on teaching and learning -- is already in place. The faculty and non-faculty educators who work in CTLs are deeply involved in a larger scholarly conversation about learning and organizational development.

What Georgetown is doing is taking that next leap in the evolution of the CTL in launching a degree program to train and credential the next generation of postsecondary learning professionals.

I anticipate that this program will be very attractive to anyone wishing to gain the expertise and credentialing necessary to build a non-faculty educator career within higher education. The opportunity to work closely with, and learn from, both traditional faculty at the University and from the learning professionals who work at CNDLS is one of the most compelling aspects of this program. The coursework and curriculum in the MLD program will be inherently experiential, as students will have the opportunity to get involved in the course redesign, analytics, class design, and online learning work of the Center. This experiential learning component, or “applied innovation” will be integrated into every aspect of the program, with the degree being built around a year-long Design Studio, which requires hands-on application of foundational theories and methods of the program to real-world learning challenges at the institution.  

Graduates of the program therefore will have gained not only a degree, but also concrete and applicable experience in leading a learning innovation project-- an experience that will be represented in a robust digital portfolio. They will have rich, real-world experiences and accomplishments within a postsecondary setting to point to in -- a track record of work that will appeal to those of us who are looking to recruit the next generation of instructional designers. 

The other reason that I think graduates from this program will be in high demand, beyond the experience they will get in the “clinical” parts of their training, is the program’s focus on preparing learning professionals to be the next generation of leaders in higher education. Students will leave the program understanding how their work in learning and technology operates within a larger context, where higher education is navigating both enormous challenges and rapid change. Issues of changing demographics, declining state support, and challenges around access and costs are playing out within a larger environment of globalization and rapid technological change. 

The ethos of this new Master’s in Learning and Design is beautifully captured by Georgetown’s own Randy Bass (Vice Provost for Education at Georgetown and another collaborator iin the launch of the program), in a recent ELI publication 7 Things You Should Know About the Evolution of Teaching and Learning Professions.

"...IT/designers will need to be not only domain mystics who know learning systems, coding, analytics, and visualization but also true boundary crossers. They must understand the contours of innovation, institutional politics, the imperatives of equity, and the outlines of learning theory. The IT/designers who only know systems will hit a low ceiling. Worse, they will not be true partners with faculty on the wicked challenge of redesigning an integrative higher education that is sustainable and equitable and delivers on its greater purposes.”

Is this a model that other CTLs might begin to follow?

Can we imagine a situation where other Centers for Teaching and Learning combine their service work to the institution with scholarship and teaching?

Georgetown seems to have an appetite for both innovation and an organizational / governance structure that enables a unit like CNDLS to initiate and shepherd a degree program. It might be a challenge for many of our institutions to replicate both (or either) of these attributes, and follow Georgetown’s lead in creating degree programs out of our CTLs. Even if we can’t all replicate what Georgetown is doing, we can certainly learn from their example. There may be opportunities for CTLs to partner with schools or departments to offer degree and non-degree training in learning design, analytics, and higher education leadership.

The demand for the type of educators and academics that Georgetown will be training will only grow. Anyone who has tried to hire an instructional designer in the last few years knows first-hand how competitive this recruitment market has become. There is room for other programs.

What do you see as the challenges, and the opportunities, of a master's program in learning and design that is based in a CTL?


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