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Librarians as Learning Designers?
April 8, 2010 - 9:47pm

The Question:

Should learning design duties be added to traditional subject librarian tasks?

The Role:

A learning designer, in the context that I am thinking about the role, most resembles a course project manager. The learning designer works directly in the learning management system (LMS) to develop the course skeleton to which the faculty member adds the flesh of content and assignments. The course skeleton includes course modules, with areas for learning outcomes, deliverables, discussions etc.

The learning designer manages the loading of course content into the LMS, such as question banks, digitized articles, and links to streaming media. Actual design work is minimal, and does not involve any html, and is centered mostly around partnering with the faculty member to translate their teaching goals and desired content/assignments into an established course design methodology.

The difference in this role is that librarians move from helping to conceptually design the course, (which as my colleague pointed out to "we're already doing this (and have been for years!)", to working directly in the LMS. This work often involves translating an instructor's Word document to modules, learning outcomes, assignments etc in the LMS.

The Pro Argument:

The spread of the LMS, and the transition to content/curriculum abundance (due to the Web), has dramatically elevated the utility of developing courses in a partnership model between instructors (subject matter experts), learning designers, and librarians. All courses, including traditional on-ground courses, can be improved by building the course in the LMS "as if" it was an online course. The LMS has extended the classroom to the Web, with an increasing amount of the class content and interaction centered within the LMS. In-class time can be rethought as a space for collaboration, project work, and individual mentoring.

The difficulty is that most institutions do not have enough learning designers to work with all instructors and courses. Learning design inputs are most intensively allocated to online programs, or to specific large-scale (introductory course) re-designs. Moving some core learning design (course project management) tasks to librarians would allow more learning design services to be offered, while at the same time improving these services through the seamless integration of traditional librarian inputs. Combining the (usually larger) workforce of librarians with learning designers (and cross training each), will increase the number of courses that will benefit from learning design inputs.

The Con Argument:

The librarian and learning design roles are distinct. The services that librarians provide to course development are essential, and adding to the course design workload by introducing learning design / course project management tasks will erode the library services. Librarians and learning designers have different trainings, orientations, strengths and experiences.

As Mark Notess, of the Digital Library Program at Indiana University, said in his comments to my 4/8 post, "I'm a bit wary anytime someone proposes repurposing professionals from one discipline to another….I think you could repurpose some librarians and some faculty for this role, but I'd caution against thinking that good instructional design can be achieved just by taking a breathing person with a masters degree (or higher) and giving them a methodology to follow. That's not how good designers are formed. Think more along the lines of apprenticeship, studios, exemplars, and critiques -- as you would find in a design or architecture program."

Is it even fair or reasonable to ask one set of professionals (librarians) to take on another professionals (learning designers) roles and tasks? The amount of work that the librarian needs to accomplish is not decreasing, so how would these new responsibilities be accommodated?

The Answer:

Honestly not sure. I do see that our institutions need to figure out how to make bring more uniformity and design best practices to the LMS portion of all of our courses. Currently, the traditional (non-online), usage of the LMS is all over the map. Bringing some measure of consistency in design, content, and narrative structure to the LMS course site would allow students to focus on learning, and instructors on teaching (as opposed to logistics etc.). A consistent LMS course design methodology allows for greater instructor autonomy, creativity and effectiveness. The only way to achieve this vision is to get more learning professionals into the course design / course project management role. I'm wondering how to do this with the realities of campus budgets. I'm wondering if growing the librarian role to include learning designer responsibilities is the way to go. But I'm not sure. Thoughts?


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