Devolving the empire of the ‘learning technologist’

Most colleges and universities have some sort of centralised area of expertise regarding the use of learning technology. For some this will be 1 person as part of many other roles that they fulfill, at bigger organisations it will be a team of individuals dedicated to this area of work.

One problem with this model though is there becomes an unhealthy over reliance on those individuals – which if they leave or are off work for a period of time stops things happening. Also the gap between the abilities of the learning technologists and the average lecturing staff is widening due to the speed of change in this area of work, and only the technologists have the capacity to keep up.

I was lucky enough over the last year to work on an LSIS funded project with Loughborough College looking at a different model, where the expertise for certain technologies is devolved to teaching staff, which has the effect of building confidence, spreading the expertise, and putting the expertise into the teaching staff room.

The experiment involved the ‘learning technologists’ within the sports team mentoring lecturing staff as they explored and used a chosen technology with the idea that they became the ‘expert’ in that technology and the first point of call for other staff wanting help. The outputs from this project can be found a The outputs include at least 2 screencasts for each technology, and a simple user guide in that technology.

The next question is was the project a success? The short term indicators showed that the staff were more confident as a result, there was a noticeable knowledge shift away from the learning technologists to the teaching staff which was positive and staff were certainly using a wider range of technologies and using them better. The real test though will be in another 12-18 months time – to see if the teaching staff that became these experts are still ‘experts’ and are still influencing others around them.

From what I have seen though having worked through the process with the college, I think there is definitely merit in this ideology. It is challenging for many, as it does involve the technologists letting go slightly, and some may see this as a threat to their employment future – although I see it as an opportunity, I think there will always be a need for the technologist, it is just their role may change into including more mentoring and facilitating rather than just doing. This model would also require careful strategic planning and direction, and in the short term would take longer than sticking with the current model, which would be a real threat to is adoption else where, but if people could see the benefits of this model, then it certainly has potential.

2 Responses

  1. I always said that my role as the e-learning coordinator at an FE college was to train staff to make my job redundant. I like the model that you are proposing and believe it is the way forward. Devolving the centralised ‘learning technologist’ to staffrooms creates ownership. Issues may arise from staff rooms where no one comes forward and take the lead or there is a huge gap in skills. Especially as organisations may not offer any form of insentive for staff to take responsibility.

    It would require someone in the Senior Management team to be involved. I was lucky at my last place of work that I was given the freedom to try something similar. My unofficial ‘Superstars’ received priority training and access to the latest gadgets to try out and I was lucky there were keen volunteers in most departments willing to suppport their colleagues. However, there was to odd department (usually the one with the dictatorial boss) who would not buy in. No one would volunteer without a more tangiable incentive.

    Good luck with the rest of this project as I think it is incredibly relevant and someone needs to gather the evidence.

    • I completely agree with what you say Richard, and I think the ‘tangible incentive’ is absolutely key. With this project the staff were given some money to become the ‘champions’ – the big question is going to be will they continue with that ‘role’ now that it is not funded. Senior management buy in is again going to be key, but with so many other issues in the heads of SMT things like this are often low priority.

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