"There is something of a chicken-and-egg argument around instructional tech. Do faculty fail to demand new technology because they don't want it, or do they not want it because they don't have it? I think that a killer app for instructional tech might break the circle, but I have no idea what it would be. "
--Posted  by sibyl on August 15, 2011 at 9:00am EDT
The killer app for instructional technology is the learning technologist. The difference maker where education and technology meet is the education professional, the learning designer or instructional technologist. She can speak learning (learning theory, course design best practices etc.), she is fluent in technology (from platforms to media delivery to infrastructure and troubleshooting), and can converse comfortably with practitioners of a wide range of academic disciplines.
A learning designer or instructional technologist or academic computing person (can you provide a better name?) is the glue that brings together the inputs from faculty (subject matter expertise and teaching experience), available learning technology platforms (the LMS, media management, lecture capture, response systems, synchronous meeting tools etc.), and the other campus learning professionals that can team with the faculty and learning designer for course development and delivery. These other campus professionals include academic librarians, media and content production professionals, and classroom technology experts.
In my experience, colleges and universities make 3 mistakes with the learning design / instructional technology staff:
1. Not Enough People: I have yet to see a campus that has enough learning designers and academic technology people. As teaching has evolved so that many core functions of the learning process are mediated by technology the number of people who can utilize technology to help faculty realize their teaching and learning objectives has remained fairly static. Learning technologists / designers are almost always hugely outnumbered by other administrative computing or library colleagues.
2. Reactive Orientation: As the popularity and ubiquity of the LMS has grown, learning designers and educational technologists have found themselves spending more and more time reacting to faculty questions and requests around these tools. The work of training a wide swath of instructors to effectively use the LMS, particularly when a campus changes systems or does a major upgrade, can also take up enormous amounts of time. With usually only a handful of educational technology professionals it is very difficult to work proactively with departments and faculty on wholesale course design and re-design. Ideally, educational technologists would be partnering to bring the best practices in pedagogy that are enabled by learning technologies into large lecture courses, as these classes can benefit greatly from student-centered learning technologies and a focused and team based design or re-design approach.
3. Tactical Orientation: Learning technology professionals and instructional designers should have a seat at as many campus strategic tables as possible. Even the most traditional institutions will be embracing some elements of blended learning and technology mediated instruction going forward. Learning technologists are perfectly positioned to help plan for long-term needs, as they spend their days working with faculty trying to make sure our campus technologies contribute to course quality and student learning. They can connect learning theory with what is going on in the ed tech company space, and have a clear picture where resources need to be invested to meet goals around improved quality and lower costs.
Has anyone done any research on the size, composition, distribution, responsibilities, career paths and educational/professional backgrounds of instructional technologists?
How did you end up in this profession?
Do you have an alternative candidate for instructional tech's killer app?