What a Learning Technologist Needs to Be Good At

Tom PreskettBy Tom Preskett

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 be too abstract. This is a completely anecdotal assertion.

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 and allowing them to make informed decisions on their appropriate use. Here’s a list of qualities that I think are important:

Good communication/good teaching:
I’m realising more and more that being a good communicator and teacher is priority number one for this job. I need to be able to communicate my message in a variety of forums and a variety of contexts. I need to be able to communicate well and where possible teach well so that I make maximum advantage of each opportunity. I’ve been reading a lot recently on what it means to give practical advice on LTs, particularly 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 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 [custom-made] 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 I have a captive audience, placing myself in an environment where people will listen. Ideally, people come to something you have organised beause 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 formats 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 that 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 educator 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 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 the 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 okay, but that’s probably because I picked the criteria. Mind you, there is lots of room for improvement.

3 Responses

  1. Tom, excellent points. Your suggestion to think about “Start time/finish” and “Aligning topic with time periods” reminds me of why I begin preparing for the next semester with a calendar: counting the days in a semester and dividing them into the major papers I require, then inserting due dates and working in the intro, readings, activities, etc. in between.

    But I like best your suggestion to reflect and write. Whenever I invite colleagues to submit articles to ETCJ on a regular basis, their immediate first response is “I don’t have the time.”

    However, if we think of writing, as you say, as a routine exercise in reflecting on what we’re learning, then we realize that we often don’t know what we know or how our thinking is evolving until after we set it down in writing. It’s as though we continually reconstruct and rediscover who we are or what we’re thinking through writing.

    I know that I write to make sense of why I feel the way I do about certain events, decisions, ideas, practices, trends, issues, points of view, etc. It all begins with a feeling or what Dewey calls an “impulse,” and it’s not until I find a quiet moment to write that I fully understand the feeling.

    The understanding, the naming of the feeling, is a first step toward abstract thinking in which words serve as bricks for constructing knowledge.

    Thus, instead of thinking of writing as “extra” in our professional lives, we ought think of it as a “basic need,” like water and air. -Jim S

  2. Thanks for these comments. The writing process we so value is interesting in that it’s so undervalued by most. I like the way you describe the process. I’ve always lumped it in with reflection. This is still the case, but your description is illuminating. Perhaps without it, you never really make sense of the information you receive properly. Only by expressing it through prose do you really create the knowledge out of this information. By writing it in a forum such as this, you are also creating the information for other’s to apply as knowledge in their context. There’s more to be said here but that require some more thinking.

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