From education to employment

Professional literacies, leadership and learning technology

Maren Deepwell is chief executive of the Association for Learning Technology

In a recent post by Stephen Downes, MOOC pioneer and a proponent of connectivist learning (see for example his keynote speech at the 2013 ALT Annual Conference), I came across a discussion of different skills and values, professional literacies, that have been shaped by digital technology and the internet.

These include not only the now more commonly known digital literacy (see Jisc’s guide for example), or web literacy (Mozilla’s recent work comes to mind here), but also critical literacy and data literacy. Different technologies and connectivity shape the way we learn and work – a shift that we all experience on a daily basis.

Reflecting on what we know and learn about professionalisation of learning technology and its use for learning, teaching or assessment, we come quickly to the obvious conclusion that, in contrast to the early 1990s, more and more roles in education and training have a component related to learning technology just like other professions. As a result, more and more individuals and providers are looking for ways to develop skills and accredit them.

At ALT, for example, we have seen an increased uptake of CMALT, ALT’s peer-based accreditation scheme, amongst individuals from FE, and last year’s widened participation in ocTEL – the open course in Technology Enhanced Learning. Both, as well as the forthcoming formation of a new Special Interest Group on FELTAG, are signs that we are recognising and valuing skills in learning technology more widely.

As with all change, however, many of the external mechanisms that shape education and training have difficulty adjusting to the potential of learning technology. At best there is an effort to ‘stay out of the way’ of innovation, to hope that nothing you do stops teachers or providers from trying out new things, from taking risks. More often external pressures result in internal conservatism, risk avoidance and uninformed reliance on ready-made solutions. Making decisions about learning technology can be difficult when pressure is high and the rate of change higher.

Having recently made small contributions to programmes designed to support and develop leadership and governance in the sector, I have been reflecting on how gaining knowledge such as the literacies mentioned above can impact on our decision making. While leaders may have opportunities to gain some hands-on experience of technology, be informed by research or policy, most of the time decision making will be informed by information or observation provided by others. So whom do we rely on when making decisions in a fast-paced, iterative technology landscape?

In an ideal scenario decision making around learning technology would be informed by learning technologists, or those whose remit includes learning technology to a significant degree – in short, those who have professionalised their experience and skills. These individuals who engage in continuous professional development, who are part of a wider national network, can contribute their insight and evidence to the decision making process.

Learning technology is becoming increasingly important to a broader set of skills – skills that more of the current workforce (as well as learners) will become more reliant on in the future. Our workplace is changing, becoming more digital if you like. But there is a difference between the digital skills the majority of the workforce requires to function effectively and the professional knowledge of those who shape learning, teaching and assessment with technology. ALT defines learning technology as the broad range of communication, information and related technologies that can be used to support learning, teaching, and assessment. What we recognise is that continued professionalisation is key to success in learning technology.

Maren Deepwell is chief executive of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT), an independent membership charity

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