Tuesday, 8 September 2009

The elearning professional - a label

Core activity 1.1 offered an audio segment of five of the course team discussing their views on the term 'elearning professional'.

From their comments it's very clear that elearning has come a long way from its beginnings in a relatively short space of time, and that it is still very much a new and developing field. It's exciting and inspiring to be involved in something not yet fixed and where so many disciplines offer a contribution.

The activity was an opportunity to reflect on how I feel about the label, and the extent to which I would apply it to myself at this point in my career. My musings, relatively unedited, follow.

Applying this label to myself at this point in my career?

To someone who is not themselves an elearning professional, I might cautiously begin to apply this label to myself. I think though at the moment I feel quite inexperienced in the breadth of elearning potential (despite knowing one very small area in great depth!). I'd therefore be hesitant about using the term 'professional', or using it amongst those who are elearning professionals of far greater experience than I. But, I subscribe to ethical standards, have a greater interest in the learner and understanding and supporting their needs than just meeting a required corporate training need, and am committed to my own and the field's development - all aspects of professionalism. So I suppose it's the lack of experience and knowledge that would make me uncertain at the moment. Gaining some of that knowledge and experience is exactly why I'm doing this course, and feeling deserving of that label is my aim.

How do I feel about this label?

I used to think elearning applied to a very narrow field of courseware - presentation screen by screen, little more than digitised books. Then, I didn't want to say I was involved in elearning, in case I was assumed to be part of such a narrow discipline - so described my work as 'educational technology'. But people would ask me if that meant I "did stuff like interactive whiteboards", and that wasn't what I did either. So I did AIED (Artificial Inetlligence in Education), or ITS (Intelligent Tutoring Systems) or OLM (Open Learner Modelling), but that just confused anyone who wasn't involved in those fields already. I still vary my description of that PhD research depending on who I speak to, and what I know of their background, trying to give people a way in that they can relate to as it's really not that complicated!

People are used to e-things now - eMail, eBanking, eGovernment perhaps. They know it means online, using computers, doing it for yourself without specialist equipment or needing an intermediary to do it for you. And they know what learning means (although for some the idea might be rather restricted to ideas of schooling). So, if give someone the term elearning they have some hooks to hang on to already, and they can form some idea of what it might involve. I also think that people have a generally positive and respectful view of educators and learning professionals, so to describe myself as an elearning professional would be something that I'd be proud of now.

One of the course team (Robin Goodfellow) mentioned professionalism as involving a commitment to learning for civilisation as well as personal development, and distinguished between education from other learning contexts such as corporate training or informal personal learning. This resonated with me as I feel strongly about the importance of learning and learning opportunities for social justice. Elearning offers one more potential route to learning. Recognising learning as being about more than just providing ebooks matters to me - I do not want to be involved in creating shoddy 'learning materials'. Perhaps there is a bit of me that might be allowed to call myself a professional already then.

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