The answer to the question in the “click bait” title is – yes of course we do, we most definitely need the role, but do we still need the title?
In 2014 Santanu Vasant wrote an article in jobs.ac.uk identifying the broad nature of the role and the broad background and expertise of role holders so I won’t go into any detail about what a Learning Technologist (LT) might be as you can read that article linked below as a starting point.
My experience is that Learning Technologists often have significant technological and pedagogical expertise. I know from personal experience the value of working with fantastic “learning technologists” and they can be key to really successful learning experiences. However, I don’t think that all of my academic colleagues really understood how to work with learning technologists most effectively or recognised that in most cases the expertise of the LT extended way beyond just the tech. I think part of this problem arises from the obvious association with the technologies used for learning that the role title brings – often with a focus on the learning technologist being an expert in just the technology.
In both my previous institution and my current institution I have been using the TPACK framework as a reference point for educational and curriculum development. Trying to move away from a separation of the technology from the wider curriculum design. The intention is to embed “digital” into the curriculum design process and to encourage a partnership model where each member is valued for what they bring to the development of a high quality learning & teaching experience as part of the wider programme team.
A detailed explanation of the framework is available here: https://matt-koehler.com/tpack2/tpack-explained/
When “learning technologists” work with course/programme teams I want their academic colleagues to always recognise the expertise they bring and value the contributions that they make to the curriculum design process and to change the perception that their role is mainly to provide expertise with the technology (TK) because in many cases they also have pedagogic expertise (PK) and in some cases also subject expertise (CK).
The reality is that often a good learning technologist can be the “glue” that binds these domains together, understands that the interconnected nature of each domain is key to the learning & teaching experience and that holistic curriculum design sits right at the heart of this framework.
With this in mind we have begun to move away from the Learning Technologist role title towards a broader Educational Developer title. The intention of this is that everyone in our team who supports staff in curriculum development or learning and teaching activities will have the same title and are recognised as having expertise in “education” (whether that be with specific expertise in TK or PK or both ).
Over time the intention is that through development opportunities all of our Educational Developers will have core knowledge in both TK & PK as it is very rare that these domains are discussed in isolation – but that we still recognise and retain individual expertise around the specialisms that people have a deeper knowledge of.
We are building an individual profile page for all of our educational developers which will also demonstrate the breadth of individual expertise within the team. Whether the change of “title” changes the way in which staff perceive the work of the “learning technologist” remains to be seen, but some early discussions I have had suggests already that the removal of the “technology” term alone increases a sense of accessibility for some staff with the view that the focus of discussions won’t be on the technology.
I am aware that that the Learning Technologist role is wide and varied across the sector (as is often discussed in the ALT members mailing list) so I know that I am coming from a very narrow perspective of what a Learning Technologist is based on my own experiences, but it was also discussions on this mailing list that got me thinking about role titles and the perceptions of others of those titles.
Would be great to hear from “Learning Technologists” (in the very broadest sense of the title) what your own thoughts and experiences are.
Update: Daniel Scott has written this fantastic blog post which I would highly encourage you to read about being a learning Technologist.