H808: What it means to be an eLearning Professional

This post reflects on the question posed in Unit 1 of H808: what it means to be an eLearning Professional

When I chose the module H808 The eLearning Professional, I was intrigued by the term ‘eLearning Professional’, and I am glad that the term has been questioned, debated, dissected and regurgitated from the start prompted by listening to a podcast from four OU academics with their own views of what it means (Robin Mason, Gill Kirkup, Robin Goodfellow, Chris Jones). So, what does it mean to be an ‘eLearning Professional?’. I’ll approach this by dissecting the two parts of the term separately.

First, I’ll consider the word ‘Professional’ first as it is probably less controversial. For me, the notion of a Professional is someone who is committed to a particular discipline and displays ethics and values that support the promotion of that discipline. We expect this of doctors, lawyers and teachers. Professionals often have to qualify either through formal means or through quantifiable practice and there is the onus on the professional to keep his/her skills current, again either through formal or informal means. Even where there may not be a formal qualification required, a combination of demonstrable experience, research and practice would seem to be required.

I found Chris Jones’s distinction between historical and modern professions helpful in this context since the routes to becoming a Professional in these respective types may be different . This is an important distinction because in careers that evolve, the traditional ways of qualification might not keep up with the demands of an emerging profession – which many ‘new’ careers in the IT/web sphere are.

So to summarise, for me the notion of a Professional may encompass the following

1. Practice and experience across a wide range of areas within the discipline or specialism within that discipline.

2. Adhering to and setting standards and good practice to ensure quality.

3. Commitment to the profession as a whole.

4. Keeping abreast of developments, research and innovations and attaining qualification or accreditation where available.

5. Participating in or following research for the development of the discipline.

6. Acknowledgement of peers and community of Professional status (thorugh membership of community, blog status, peer recommendations)

Now to discuss ‘eLearning’. For me this term is most helpfully viewed in an historical context of development and maturing of the discipline that has encompassed terms such as ‘computer mediated conferencing’ and now ‘blended learning’ and ‘technology-enhanced learning’. There seem to be a number of different interpretations of what eLearning is depending on context, so for some especially in corporate training, it means computer-assisted terminal-based training replacing physical training courses, while in Further or  Higher Education it means learning at a distance through computers and internet or in schools using tools such as smartboards in a classroom. In some contexts, it is synonymous with knowing instructional design and building courses. For some in my H808 Tutor Group, eLearning is a skill or toolset that a learning professional can use but is not necessarily a separate discipline in its own right, while for others it is a highly specialised IT oriented practice.

My own (evolving) view is that:

1. ELearning as a term is helpful within certain contexts but that as social learning, web 2.0, networking and social media become more pervasive, the ‘e’ in eLearning may become obsolete. Already new terms such as technology-enhanced learning, blended learning and networked learning are jostling for space. In some contexts, especially corporate training ‘eLearning’ has become associated with boring read and click type SCORM courses primarily used to save money and achieve compliance rather than learning, so one needs to understand the context and also to gauge understanding of what others understand of eLearning when working in this environment. It is, however, a widely used term and as Chris Jones says, probably still has a shelf life of some 30 years.

2.  ELearning skills need to encompass an understanding of tools and technologies on a theoretical and practical level. ELearning professionals need to be involved as practitioners, tutors, facilitators and learners. It’s an area that one has to live and breathe the medium.

3. ELearning practioners need to have a sound understanding of pedagogy and learning theories and strategies for particular situations in order to make design decisions, evaluate options from a position of knowledge and for teaching strategies in virtual or blended environments.

4. ELearning practitioners will need to be good team workers and networkers as this is a discipline (like web development) where skills become increasingly specialised and it may be difficult to be a generalist or ‘lone ranger’ of all areas. Flexibility and ability to transfer skills from one context to another is also an important mindset to adopt.

On a rather personal note, I think that eLearning practitioners need to understand and appreciate the potential of social good that technology can bring to learning whether it is through access in a developing country context or improved learning outcomes as a result of good learning design in adult education. I think one needs to like and be enthusiastic about technology as a force for social good. This does not mean blind adherence because the ability to critically evaluate the effects and outcomes is a necessary skill, but I think enthusiasm and belief in doing meaningful work is actually part of being an effective Professional in any field. At any rate, having a reason to get out of bed each morning is a good start :-).

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