Learning Technologist

Documentation and training materials

I’ve been a Learning Technologist in UK Higher Education for over 20 years. The meaning of the term ‘Learning Technologist’ is frequently the subject of earnest existential debates on e-learning fora, such as the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) mailing list. The debates often become very abstruse and navel-gazing, and no clear definition has ever emerged. In my simple, practical view, a Learning Technologist is a bridge between the world of technology which can be deployed to help teaching and learning, and the world of the teacher/academic who is often non-technical. A good Learning Technologist, in my view, needs to understand the needs and practice of teaching, and in particular e-learning pedagogy, and the technologies currently available which can be used to support it.

Learning Technologists have tended to be of two very broad types: ‘soft’, coming from educational backgrounds, and ‘hard’, coming from technical development backgrounds, although most LTs are a combination of both types in varying proportions. I come from a ‘hard’ programming/IT background, but have developed many ‘soft’ e-learning attributes, in particular working with teachers and academics to facilitate the use of technologies in their work, and developing a strong understanding of pedagogies applied to e-learning, especially social constructivism.

Perhaps the most essential quality of a good LT is communication across a wide user base, and with colleagues of highly varying technical knowledge. Diplomacy and tact are crucial.

It’s my belief that e-learning, properly deployed, is a strong adjunct to, and definitely not a substitute for, ‘traditional’ education (eg lectures, seminars). E-learning is not a cheap, money-saving option as so many managers have seen it since the early 90s, but a qualitative enhancement of existing teaching, allowing for innovative approaches that can stimulate students and improve learning outcomes, and reach out to communities (eg lifelong learners) and groups who’ve been excluded by ‘traditional’ university education.