What is a Learning Technologist?

Learning technologists, educational technologists, instructional designers…. to some extent, these roles are synonymous; the most commonly used term in the UK for this type of role is ‘learning technologist’. But what exactly does this role entail?

Learning technologists located in the Technology Enhanced Learning team at the Centre for Teaching and Learning (AAD), the Medical Sciences Division, the Saïd Business School and the Technology Assisted Lifelong Learning group deliver services to support learning and teaching at Oxford and are closely involved in several projects in the Education IT Programme. To create greater awareness around the nature of this role, let’s consider the type of support that we offer to staff and students across the University, by starting with some terminology.

Diverse aspects of the role

Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL): combines expertise in learning technologies and learning design:

  • learning technologies: researching and implementing technologies and approaches such as virtual learning environments, online learning, flipped classroom, social media for learning, lecture capture, polling, among others
  • learning design: assisting academic staff and course teams in optimising the use of digital technologies as they design new programmes or revise existing ones, with the overall aim of enhancing the student learning experience.

Pedagogy: the art, science or profession of teaching (Merriam Webster Dictionary). This includes the need to be aware of various pedagogical perspectives or theories (e.g. behaviourism, cognitivism, constructivism, connectivism) that describe how students may (or may not) learn. Learning technologists are usually required to have a qualification (or equivalent experience) in education, which enables them to promote the importance of ‘pedagogy before technology’.

Learning technology is a field on its own, and practitioners in this field are called ‘learning technologists’, or ‘learning technology professionals’. The Association for Learning Technology (ALT) defines a learning technologist as follows: “Learning technologists are people who are actively involved in managing, researching, supporting or enabling learning with the use of learning technology”.

Supporting academics in identifying appropriate learning technologies

Learning technologists strive to be champions for new technologies, keeping up to date with the field, researching new tools and approaches, and producing research outputs ourselves, such as evaluation reports, conference presentations and journal articles. Although we may contribute to formal IT projects for a defined period of time, the major part of our work is supporting academics and administrators on an ongoing basis. We do this through the Technology Enhanced Learning Consultancy which is offered free of charge to colleagues across the University. We help them to analyse their needs (a bit like ‘requirements gathering’) regarding the design and development of courses, and the application of learning technologies, where appropriate. We build long-term relationships with our users, listening to them, raising awareness of available learning technologies that might be suitable to meet their teaching objectives, and generally ‘holding their hands’ until they are comfortable with the results produced.

Pursuing an ongoing, collaborative approach

The Canvas @ Oxford project is a practical example of how we work. In 2016, learning technologists identified the need for a more intuitive and user-friendly VLE based on feedback from students and academic staff. After a rigorous selection process, Canvas was chosen as it meets the demand for a smooth user experience and is easy to work with for both teachers and students. Throughout the coming months, learning technologists in the TEL team will work with academic and administrative staff to support them throughout the transition process. We will demonstrate and evaluate Canvas, and offer free courses and other supporting services to University members.

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