The second part of core activity 5.1 was to read Warrior's ‘Reflections of an educational professional’ and to use her thoughts on education as a profession to in framing my own thoughts with regard to elearning. Here are my own preliminary and brief definitions of ‘profession’, ‘elearning’ and ‘elearning professional’ based on the reading
Professionals and professionalism
I read Warrior, and found it triggered some useful thoughts on professionals and professionalism. I felt she got a bit lost at the beginning. I think the question of a professional as someone who is paid (as opposed to an amatuer, who isn't) was a bit of a diversion, as was her discussion of gender discrimination (which might be all correct, but had little to do with the core subject). Once she got going, however, she introduced a number of key concepts and ideas about what a professional is.
I won't comment on her thoughts one by one, but rather give my thoughts that were triggered through my reading of this and other sources.
In my mind, being a professional is related to the following concepts:
Personal initiative - a professional has to be able to make their own decisions and decide courses of action, based on their own knowledge and experience.
Independence - a professional should be trusted and is expected to exercise their own judgement.
Personal responsibility - A professional has to be liable for and takes responsibility for decisions made, and can't hide behind rules and regulations.
Recognised training - a professional will have completed formal, certified training, recognised both formally and by the wider public.
Recognised development path - professionals have a recognised path (or paths) through training, experience and certification.
Experience and career development - professionals demonstrate commitment to a long term career. You can't be called a professional just because you have passed an exam.
Maintenance of skills - a professional is expected to maintain their knowledge of their domain and their skills in working within it.
Paid - I don't think you can have unpaid professionals (although they may do specific activities for nothing, or "pro bono").
Institutional membership - every profession has a recognised national or international body that both represents the collective views of the profession, and is concerned with professional standards and behaviour.
Quality - a professional does high quality work.
Dedicated - professionals are seen as committed to and believing in what they do.
Status - a profession is not a profession if its status is not recognised and respected in the wider community.
As I thought through all this I found it interesting to compare a professional with an expert, a craftsman or a specialist.
You can be an expert in a subject or a domain, without being a professional. You may not work in the domain, you may not be able to hold a position of responsibility, you may not have broad enough expertise (which might make you a specialist) or it may not be in an area recognised as being professional. (By contrast a professional may also be an expert and a specialist)
A craftsman is to be admired for his or her skill, but professionalism is also related to making wider decisions and exercising initiative beyond an object or artefact.
So, after all this wandering, I found it hard to put together a precise definition, but here goes:
A Professional is an individual, recognised for their knowledge and skill in a particular field, and trusted to use their initiative and experience to make important decisions within their area of competence. They will have undergone extensive training in their field, and be certified by a widely recognised national or international body.
Literally, elearning is learning through electronic means. By extension, we can think of elearning as the wider domain concerned with supporting and conducting learning through electronic means.
Interestingly, I don't think you'd talk about "an elearning student", and we don't call someone who teaches using electronic means as an "eteacher" or an "elearning teacher". So that narrows down the definition to:
Elearning: the theory, practices, processes, technology and people that facilitate student learning through electronic means.
Based on the above definitions, we should be able to say that an elearning professional is a professional whose domain of expertise and work is elearning, and who also meets the other criteria for professionals listed above.
Unfortunately that would mean that right now there are no elearning professionals in our new and developing domain. We currently lack a widely recognised professional organisation (although some are developing, such as the Association for Learning Technology) and there is no recognised career path that would differentiate between a professional and a well trained expert.
At present there are certainly professionals (educationalists, chartered engineers, academics, etc) who also are experts in elearning, and who work in the field, but that isn't quite the same.
Perhaps right now we are studying to become the next generation of elearning experts, and once the discipline has matured, and the supporting scaffolding of a profession has been built and recognised, we will be able to join the first wave of elearning professionals.
Warrior, B. (2002) ‘Reflections of an educational professional’ (online), Journal of Hospitality, Leisure, Sport and Tourism Education, vol. 1, no. 2