What is a Learning Technologist?

Recent years have seen a new title appearing among the job vacancy ads, that of learning/educational technologist. The terms “learning” and “educational” technologist are equivalent, with “educational” favored in North America while “learning” is preferred in Great Britain. But what exactly does this rapidly growing profession do?

According to the Association for Learning Technology:

Learning technology is the broad range of communication, information and related technologies that can be used to support learning, teaching, and assessment.

Learning technologists are people who are actively involved in managing, researching, supporting or enabling learning with the use of learning technology.

The role can encompass a broad range of tasks, the most common of which are described below. Essentially, it describes a practitioner in the field of learning/educational technology, ie the application of technology to facilitate learning.

The traditional process of teaching requires both expertise in the field being taught and an understanding of how people learn. Technology-mediated learning, e-learning, requires the additional knowledge of both technology, and how it can enable and enhance learning.

The learning technologist will certainly have a broad knowledge of current technologies, including (but not limited to) the Internet, VLEs and various mobile digital devices. S/he may be a practitioner, eg Web designer/developer, or able to commission the production of new resources, or just able to effectively select and adopt existing resources. Ideally s/he will also have some appreciation of the educational process.

Learning technologists come from varied backgrounds, perhaps Web / multimedia developers who have found a niche in education, or educators who specialized in incorporating technology into their teaching. It is fast becoming a recognized career path with a growing number of institutions offering qualifications in educational technology.

The learning technologist often fulfills an advisory/consultancy role, enabling established teachers utilize technology to better impart their expertise to learners. This could mean improving on-campus education, eg by means of a virtual learning environment (VLE) such as Blackboard or Moodle, or using distance education to make that knowledge available to a whole new audience.

Numerous opportunities exist within the public and private sectors. Universities are employing e-learning to better serve internal students, eg making lectures and notes available online, and to expand into distance learning. Corporations are finding e-learning to be an efficient and effective means of training their workforce.

The learning technologist may also find themselves in the more sensitive role of “champion” for new technologies, particularly within the public/university sector. In this case management has decided e-learning is the way forward and the learning technologist is charged with “selling” the idea to an unconvinced or skeptical staff.

E-learning is now an established part of education and seems set to continue growing exponentially for the foreseeable future. This growth also brings a growing need for talented practitioners able to contribute to the successful application of technology to learning. For those who can identify and exploit those technologies that truly add value to the learning process there will be high demand and commensurate rewards.

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