Thursday, 24 February 2011

What a learning technologist needs to be good at

I've talked previously about the principle of offering practical advice. This is referring to the level of abstraction you employ when talking about the design of the learning experience. My gut feeling is that because researchers are often employed in Learning Technology positions the tendency is to more be too abstract. This is a completely anecdotal assertion (this blog gives me this kind of freedom of expression).

Aside from this, what are the qualities I need to possess to have the maximum positive impact? By positive I mean giving people a good understanding of key issues with regard to LTs allowing them to make informed decisions on their appropriate use. I will list some qualities:

Good communication/good teaching:
I'm realising more and more that's being a good communicator and teacher is priority number 1 for this job. I need to be able to communicate my message in a variety of fora and a variety of contexts. I need to be able to communicate well and where possible teach well so that I make maximium advantage of each opportunity. I've been a lot recently on what it means to give practical advice on LTs particular with regard to designing a whole course. I think an important principle is making order out of simple but disparate concepts and ideas. It's very common for discussion to flit around lots of different issues, so if you can give order, structure and context for all of this then that's is really useful. Often what you come up with sounds obvious. Don't worry about this, it's still useful. For example, colleagues at the Institute of Education have found it useful when I say think about:

- Start time/finish
- Aligning topic with time periods

And then for each topic, think about:
- What bespoke content you want
- What readings you want
- What learning activities you want

There's much, much more to think about but this is a good basis. Sounds like common sense but key points are easily overlooked and mashed together causing confusion.

Finding opportunities to spread the word
It is often about manufacturing situations where you have a captive audience, placing myself in environment where people will listen. Ideally, people come to something you have organised where they want your help and support. In an ideal world this is one-to-one tuition or group training sessions. However, these can be difficult to manufacture so other situations have to be sought. Working groups for sharing practice are a good idea. You can always slip in advice at strategic points.

Adapting your message to the audience
This is about not banging the drum too hard with the wrong audience, in the wrong context. Because technology can be an emotive issue with some, the context needs to be right before you think about delivering your message. Also, if educators come to learn about, say, a particular tool or technology you can also give some learning design advice within this to give it context.

Initiating and taking control of your own learning
This is probably the hardest part. Clearly it's a principle which could apply to any profession. For LTs, at a simple level, it's about staying on top of new software and environments and ensuring that you understand how to work tools before the edcuator gets to it. This is hard enough but then you add to it, trying to keep abreast of the latest thinking in research terms with regard to LTs. A third strand which I try and do is reading and reflecting on the latest thinking on LTs outside the academia. I am talking about the the blogosphere and the micro-blogosphere. This is hard and involves making time to read and share what you can. It's valuable because it makes you think outside your narrow world. With any job there are times when learning gets swamped by being too damn busy but it's worth the effort when you get a chance. Taking control of your own learning and ensuring that you keep abreast on all three fronts is hard and sometimes overwhelming. But I'm always glad when I do. In fact, this is one of things that keep me interested in my job. Being able to easily find information and opinion and turn this into knowledge by reflecting on it in light of my context.

It's interesting rating yourself against these criteria. I come out ok, but that's probably because I picked the criteria. Mind you, there lots of room for improvement.

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