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The role of the learning technologist

The role of the learning technologist

The role of the learning technologist is vital to the success of e-learning. Our work which brings together pedagogy and technology ensures that many innovative projects enhance learning and teaching.

Ever changing technologies make the work exciting as you continually face the challenge of exploring new technologies and reflecting on their pedagogical potential. However, this also presents the challenge of keeping up-to-date.

Scott Miller, Essex, defined a learning technologist as someone who meets the following definition: “A learning technologist is employed with a core activity of the job to promote and/or support the pedagogically effective uptake of specific 'learning technologies'. Learning technologies are the systematic application of communication and information technologies to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of education through the design, implementation, use and evaluation of learning resources, organisational structures and methods. Because a learning technologist promotes and supports change in educational practice they understand not only the pedagogical principles and the technology available, but also how to make best use of the latter to support and serve those principles.” http://www.dur.ac.uk/ltteam/tltofficers

Learning technologists may be based in a central unit such as the IT Service, the Library, a Learning and Teaching support centre or a Staff Development Unit. Their work combines education and technology and the most appropriate base for them will vary according to the context of their institution. Tensions can arise if they are not based in the best place for them to undertake their work. The remit of centrally based learning technologists is usually to support and develop e-learning across the whole institution. Other learning technologists may be based within departments, faculties or schools and their remit is primarily to support more specific subject areas. For some people learning technology is just part of their job. Helen Beetham’s study of learning technologists in 2001 identified 4500 centrally located, 3500 departmentally located in UK universities, plus 8000 departmentally based academics who also work in this area. http://sh.plym.ac.uk/eds/effects/jcalt-project/

Helen Beetham’s study also identified 11 roles “though these by no means corresponded with actual divisions of labour among individuals, many of whom were carrying out multiple roles”
http://sh.plym.ac.uk/eds/effects/jcalt-project/

These roles are categorised into 3 groups:

  1. new specialists
  2. academics and established professionals
  3. learning support professionals

The 10 activities central to most participants were:

  1. Actively seek to keep abreast of developments in learning technologies
  2. Facilitate access to learning technology expertise and services
  3. Liaise & collaborate with other units in the university having related interests & objectives
  4. Act as consultant, mentor or change agent for other staff
  5. Advise and assist with introduction of new technology into learning & teaching programmes
  6. Increase colleagues’ awareness of best practice in learning technologies
  7. Enable exchange of ideas and experience in technology-based learning and teaching
  8. Facilitate & support access to computer-based learning resources
  9. Consult with support staff on appropriate use of learning technologies
  10. Identify needs & opportunities for development/deployment of learning technologies

The career of the learning technologists is evolving as we become more established. However, there seems to be a ceiling to progression as there are few senior e-learning posts within institutions. Consequently, people leave learning technology to become academics or senior managers. Currently there is an ALT project, funded by JISC and led by Martin Oliver, UCL, to develop and pilot an accreditation framework aimed at learning technologists. It aims to meet the needs of learning technologists working in HE, FE and commercial sectors.
http://www.ucl.ac.uk/epd/alt-accreditation/
This will help to develop learning technology into a profession and build a career structure for learning technologists.

There are national organisations which help learning technologists. The Association of Learning Technology (ALT) is “a professional and scholarly association which seeks to bring together all those with an interest in the use of learning technology.” ALT has an annual conference, workshops, a journal and newsletter
http://www.alt.ac.uk
For HE, the Learning and Teaching Support Network (LTSN) “promotes high quality learning and teaching through the development and transfer of good practices in all disciplines.”
http://www.ltsn.ac.uk/
In particular, the LTSN Generic Centre supports the work of learning technologists directly.
http://www.ltsn.ac.uk/genericcentre/index.asp
For FE, FERL aims to “support individuals and organisations in making effective use of ILT (Information Learning Technologies).
http://ferl.becta.org.uk/

Learning technologists often work collaboratively with colleagues in other institutions. There are many informal networks but there are also special interest groups for learning technologists such as the ALT TLT-Officers SIG http://www.dur.ac.uk/ltteam/tltofficers/
and the Heads of E-learning Forum.

The work of a learning technologist is full of challenges as they are always handling change. The implementation of VLEs, such as Blackboard, has had a major impact on their work as many academics are becoming involved in e-learning for the first time.

Barbara Newland
Bournemouth University

Author: Barbara Newlands

23 April 2004

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