Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The practice of a learning technologist

I recently undertook a study to help me go my job better.  I was about the practice of learning technologists.  More specifically I looked at the processes involved with supporting UK Higher Education academic staff in their design of online or blended courses.  I did this by researching my own practice and how I supported my colleagues in their learning designs by studying through learning design processes I have been involved in recently.  Through study of the research literature, themes emerged which impact on the design process and it was under these headings that I organised the write-up. 

Here is a summary:

What has positive influence on the professional practice of a learning technologist in supporting online learning design? 

The main areas impacting on the professional practice of a learning technologist supporting academics in online course design are: contextualisation, the socio-historical context, academic perceptions/attitudes and the role of the learning technologist. To positively influence this practice, a learning technologist should be cognizant of all these areas.
With regard to the study question, it is clear that contextualised support should be central to the remit of a learning technologist. Therefore a focus on this should be adopted. The fact that generic support is valuable but perceived as secondary by academics is a useful finding because it shows that they can positively influence the learning technologist's professional practice but are subject to negotiation as the academic(s) may need convincing to participate in interactions of this nature. Therefore, a learning technologist should identify opportunities and, where possible, take opportunities to provide this type of support.
Learning technologists should be cognizant of the wide variety of socio-historical contexts and how the different contexts can be linked to certain types of behaviour and restrictions. By having this awareness, learning technologists can tailor their support to provide the maximum positive influence on the online learning design. From this study, there is evidence that online course redesign processes can be subject to colleague restrictions; representations of practice have use when redesigning learning activities; time constraints limit the extend of the design process and the amount of interactions that can occur between the learning technologist and the academic(s); and academics colleagues with previous experience of online teaching are given credence over and above learning technologists.
Learning technologists should be cognizant of the wide variety of academic staffs’ perceptions and attitudes and how they can be linked to certain types of behaviour. By having this awareness, learning technologists can tailor their support to provide the maximum positive influence on the online learning design. This study demonstrated prevalence for positive attitudes towards online learning and a link has been established between how positive the academic is and the extent to which he/she engages with the online course design process, the learning technologist and the number of support roles the learning technologist can provide. Similarly, there is some evidence to suggest that academics with a student and learning focused pedagogical outlook will give a higher profile to design for learning within their module design than academics with a teacher and content focused pedagogical standpoint. There is also evidence to suggest that validating knowledge and interacting in a facilitative manner can help build the confidence of academics engaged in the process of designing online courses.
Learning technologists should be cognizant that the roles they can play in supporting the online design process can be restricted if they are not deemed credible as a teacher by the academic(s). In these cases, their credibility as a pedagogical designer is not present. Also, a common curriculum of interactions between a learning technologist and an academic(s) does exist and consists of multiple iterations of the academic teaching the learning technologist about the context followed by the learning technologist teaching the academic about suitable learning technologies or knowledge and understanding of online course design. By having awareness of these issues, learning technologists can tailor their support to provide the maximum positive influence on the online learning design.
Here are summary bullet points of the main findings:
Contextualisation:
  • Contextualised support should be central to the remit of a learning technologist
  • Generic support is valuable but perceived as secondary by academics
Socio-historical context:
  • Online course redesign processes can be subject to colleague restrictions.
  • Representations of practice have use when redesigning learning activities.
  • Time constraints limit the extent of the design process and the amount of interactions that can occur between the learning technologist and the academic(s).
  • Academic colleagues with previous experience of online teaching are given credence over and above learning technologists.
Perceptions/attitudes:
  • There is a prevalence for positive attitudes towards online learning amongst academics.
  • The more positive an academic, the more he/she will engage with the online course design process, the learning technologist and the number of support roles they can provide.
  • Academics with a student and learning focused pedagogical outlook (Entwistle and Walker, 2000) will give a higher profile to design for learning within their module design than academics with a teacher and content focused pedagogical standpoint.
  • Validating knowledge and interacting in a facilitative manner can help build the confidence of academics.
The role of the learning technologist:
  • Learning technologists not viewed as credible teachers by academics will not have credibility as a pedagogical designer.
  • A common curriculum of interactions between a learning technologist and an academic(s) does exist and consists of multiple iterations of the academic teaching the learning technologist about the context, followed by the learning technologist teaching the academic about suitable learning technologies or knowledge and understanding of online course design.

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