Challenging educational paradigms: The changing role of the learning technologist

Peter Bryant of the London School of Economics gave a thought provoking keynote  address at the recently held CELebrate 2016 on the subject Challenging educational paradigms: The changing role of the learning technologist. Here are some excerpts from the presentation:

  • “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed” –  William Gibson
  •  ‘Six years ago, for the first time, the number of “things” connected to the internet surpassed the number of people … Experts estimate that as of this year, there will be 25 billion connected devices, and by 2020, 50 billion’. US Federal Trade Commission Report 2016
  • On the other hand, mobile ownership in Africa is on the increase, including smartphone ownership (but not as fast) … Notwithstanding, internet access is not universal, neither is affordable mobile data (Source: 2014)

The lack of affordable mobile data accounts for data poverty in some parts of the globe.

It can be maintained that “information is also a vital form of aid in itself. People need information as much as water, food, medicine or shelter. Information can save lives, livelihoods and resources. It may be the only form of disaster preparedness that the most vulnerable can afford. And yet it is very much neglected.” Red Cross 2005. This points to the need for a reconsideration of the digital future and “like air and drinking water, being digital will be noticed only by its absence, not its presence.’ (Negroponte, 1998).

The role of learning technologists can make a difference but what kinds of experiences do they provide?

Here is one view:

‘Thirty years from now the big university campuses will be relics. Universities won’t survive. It’s as large a change as when we first got the printed book. Do you realize that the cost of higher education has risen as fast as the cost of health care…such totally uncontrollable expenditures, without any visible improvement in either the content or the quality of education, means that the system is rapidly becoming untenable. Higher education is in deep crisis.’ Peter Drucker -1997. Whilst modern pedagogy/teaching is often SEQUENTIAL, SCAFFOLDED, ALIGNED STRUCTURED and STRATIFIED, lessons can be learnt from the Museum of broken relationships.

Museum of broken relationship


Unlike ‘destructive’ self-help instructions for recovery from failed loves, the Museum offers a chance to overcome an emotional collapse through creation. One visitor to the museum maintained that “no museum has ever made me feel more connected to everyone else in the world before.”

Post-digital learning experiences reveal a tension between Affordances & Resistances; Technologies & Pedagogies; Now & Future; Systems & Cloud and Service & Strategy. These tensions are further exacerbated by the following blurry myths of technological change:

  • The use of technology is the exclusive privilege of the technically adept, the young or the innovator
  • We need to focus on ‘the basics’
  • Learning has been and always will be the same and new technology simply enhances and builds on the successes of the past.
  • Technology is a ‘nice to have’, not an essential, integrated part of the action
  • Innovators are ’out there’ on the fringe.

Here are the ‘harsh’ realities:

  • The agility of society and learners to adapt and innovate their learning with and through technology often far outstrips the ability of the educational institution to keep up
  • Existing practice and innovation are pitted against each other as a contest to the death
  • Investment is rarely commensurate with outcome and impact.
  • Learning, teaching and role of the learning technologist have changed

Caught in this mix is the need for strategic review; institutional restructure; pedagogical redesign; the TEF; poor NSS/student experience results; budget cuts and Change in leadership.

Where does this leave the learning technologist? Educational developer? Teacher? HoD? Believer? In addressing this question, the following rules can be taken into consideration:

Rule 1: We are teaching and learning focused and institutionally committed

Rule 2: What we talk about is institutionally/nationally agnostic but is all about making the institution better

Rule 3: We are in the room with the decision makers. What we decide is critical to the future of our institutions. We are the institution

Rule 4: Despite the chatter, all the tech ‘works’ – the digital is here, we are digital institutions. Digital is not the innovation.

Rule 5: We are here to build not smash or protect or defend

Davis and Sumara (2009) assert that “…an education that is understood in complexity terms cannot be conceived in terms of preparation for the future. Rather, it must be construed in terms of participation in the creation of possible futures”. This suggests the readiness to manage institutional change by addressing the tensions between systems support and innovation agenda; tensions around who owns ‘pedagogy’, ‘technology’ and ‘learning’;  delivering on previous promise of ‘solutions in a box’; getting the current stuff or the basics right before you start ‘playing’ (Boys/Girls with toys problem) and shifting the pioneers to the business as usual.

Adopting a Scale Connection Stimulus Impact strategy with educational technologists in the ‘middle out’ can also facilitate change. That is, scaled projects that have institutional impact; institute connected approaches that cross function, discipline and faculty; stimulate change through high profile, highly visible interventions and implement projects that make an impact with learners, teachers and the institution. This should provide learning spaces that offer the basis for Renewal, Innovation, Aspiration and Transformation.

You can watch the Panopto video of the entire presentation here.











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