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A brief history of ALT East England 1 year in


Post by Neil Dixon and Alistair Cooper.

Being new to the profession at the end of 2018, I reached out to other Learning Technologists in the region which eventually evolved into ALT East England. We aim to organise three events per year, covering Bedford, Cambridge, Hertfordshire, Norwich and everywhere in between. So far we’ve held two events and now have over fifty subscribers on our mailing list. Here I give background to the committee and summarise our story so far.

ALT East England summary
Organising committee members 
Jennie Dettmer is an active member of two ALDinHE working groups: Learnhigher and the Conference Working group) Although Jennie works in Learning Development, she has an interest in Learning Technology and she trains others to embed technology within their teaching. Uwe Richter has supported learning technologies at ARU for over two decades, inputting into policies and developing and delivering staff development institution-wide. He also leads on distance and online learning and team-based learning for ARU. He is a member of the Head of e_Learning Forum (HeLF), ELESIG and ALT. Neil Dixon is a Chartered Librarian, member of the eLearning network and the co-host of the ALT Mentions podcast who’s interested in instructional design and pedagogical approaches for information literacy.Keep up to dateSign up for our Jiscmail@alteastengland

University of Cambridge Medical School was kind enough to host our first informal gathering with eleven attendees. We worked on our terms of reference for the group, talked about what our interests were, the priorities for each of our institutions and what kind of events we could run.

We were pleased to be able to host the first meet-up. It was about deciding what this sort of a group could and should do; everyone felt a need for something in the region and was keen to get something going.
~Alistair Cooper (University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine)

University of Cambridge, School of Clinical Medicine. Image: by Alistair Cooper. Gamification event.

UEA offered to host our first event, called Gamification: Pedagogy and Practice, seeing it as a great opportunity to highlight their work on using badges in Blackboard. With fifty attendees the event was a huge success. I was grateful to Charlie Williams (Learning Technologist, UEA) for working very hard to promote the event and recruit presenters at UEA.

Holding the first ALT EE event at UEA was a great experience, both for our Digital Technology team and for me personally. We have a growing interest in gamification here at UEA, and having the opportunity to bring all those people together, and learn from others in the region was extremely valuable. Since the event ended, several people have commented on how great the conference was, and have started experimenting with gamification in their own courses.
~ Charlie Williams (Learning Technologist, UEA)

The range of presentations was enlightening – from tech-enabled escape rooms to gamified marketing scenarios to a great data-driven comparison of the value of different gamified approaches on student grades. The lovely location that is the UEA campus was a bonus!


At ALT-C 19 I helped organise a #learningspaces #twalk at University of Edinburgh (@edteachingspace). Euan Murray and colleagues (Learning Spaces Manager, UoE) were kind enough to lead us on a tour of their informal learning spaces, makerspace, private study space, computer rooms whilst we tweeted our reflections using the hashtags. It was great to see the range of learning spaces at the University, find out what made a ‘sticky campus’ reflecting on what I was seeing in situ making it even more memorable.

An example of a social space at the University of Edinburgh where the slats create an informal boundary between the rest of the building and the seating area. Image: by Alistair Cooper. Supporting attainment gaps with learning technology.

University of Bedfordshire were kind enough to host our second event at their Luton campus. The event drew attendance from around the country, including representatives from Sheffield Hallam University, Keele University and Kingston University.

The University of Bedfordshire was delighted to be offered the chance to host only the second ALT EE event. The theme of the event, ‘Using technology to close attainment gaps’ aligned closely with the University’s aim to take on attainment gaps and do more for students of all ages, abilities, cultures and backgrounds. The event itself was active, communicative, collaborative, and encouraged conversations of real depth and richness between colleagues from far and wide.”
~ Nicholas Botfield (Head of Teaching and Learning, University of Bedfordshire)

Nick presenting at the ‘Supporting attainment gaps..’ event. Image: by Alistair Cooper. What’s next?

Our next event is called Technology-enhanced active, collaborative learning: Challenges & solutions and will be held on the 21 February at ARU, Cambridge.

Neil Dixon, neil.dixon@anglia.ac.uk with thanks to Alistair, Nick and Charlie.

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member.

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

Podcasts and Flipped Learning


Post by Julian Hopkins

This blog post will summarise some of the literature regarding the uses of podcasts in further and higher education. Podcasts are audio recordings based on the radio programme format – however they differ through their asynchronous availability, typically updating dedicated apps on mobile devices through an RSS feed or made available for direct download (for example, via a VLE). The diagram below summarises and builds upon prior work, showing how podcasts can be produced by lecturers or students, or obtained from third parties.

Although the classic lecture receives much bad press, it does have the advantage of being face-to-face. Speech was humans’ first means of communication, and the “auditory dimension of podcasting” (Al Qasim and Al Fadda, 2013: 33) such as intonation, emotional expression, and tonal variations go beyond the limitations of printed media and offer the potential of engaging with different learner types and forms of cognition. Podcasts have also been argued to support “active, social and creative aspects of learning, and strengthen reflection and self-regulated learning” (Palenque 2015, cited in Dau et al., 2018: 424). Podcasts can also reduce digital literacy barriers and improve access for all students, not all of whom have easy access to personal computers or laptops.

An expected advantage is that they can be listened to during ‘downtime’ – for example when travelling or doing household chores. However, early research suggested that students preferred to listen to podcasts in their usual study context – such as on their laptop in their home, while taking notes (Sutton-Brady et al., 2009: 223). This could reflect their perception of study content as requiring a different interaction to other media that they may access via their mobile device (Bell, 2008: 183–4). However, more recently, Dau et al. (2018) report students listening to the content “on the go,” and perhaps in the intervening years these practices have become more habitual.

Lecture Recordings

The most common type of podcast reported are simply audio lecture recordings. Although they are sometimes dismissed as replicating the lecture’s transmissive mode of content delivery and not leveraging the full range of interactive e-learning opportunities (e.g. Forbes, 2015; Turner et al., 2011; Zanten et al., 2012), they are also reported as having effective use as revision material, for students who miss classes, for those with language difficulties, or for adult learners with multiple commitments (Kazlauskas and Robinson, 2012; McLoughlin et al., 2007; Schreiber et al., 2010; Zanten et al., 2012).

Student-produced Podcasts

Podcasts produced by students can help improve constructivist learning environments (Turner et al., 2011) through engaging them in the reflective production of material and improving problem-solving, collaborative and digital skills that address desired student outcomes in most further and higher education contexts (Al Qasim and Al Fadda, 2013; Fernandez et al., 2015; Forbes, 2015) However, it is important that students are not disadvantaged by the necessary technical skills required to produce a podcast – thus extra training may be needed, potentially detracting from the learning goals of the class.

Photo by CoWomen on Unsplash Flipped Learning, Supplementary Podcasts and In-class Quizzing

Flipped learning reverses the conventional linear sequence of in-class content delivery followed by at home application exercises, and uses additional media to deliver interactive and compelling content to stimulate student interest and address a variety of student learning types (Blair et al., 2016; Kazanidis et al., 2019; Rotellar and Cain, 2016). We need more than simple recordings of lectures to properly leverage the flipped learning experience and I would suggest that supplementary podcasts would most benefit learners.

Based on the assumption that shorter podcasts are more likely to be effective, an alternative to recorded lectures is to provide summaries of lectures, or detailed explanations of key concepts or technical processes that are information-dense – enabling students to benefit from being able to replay and check details (Zanten et al., 2012).

Using podcasts of case studies/discussions of key concepts as pre-class preparatory material followed up with in-class diagnostic quizzes (using e.g. Socrative, Mentimeter) would address “the interplay between preclass and in-class activity” that Rotellar and Cain (2016) argue is crucial for flipped learning. Additionally, the quizzes provide a clear context and motivation for students to participate in the active learning. They would also provide a valuable formative assessment enabling students to improve their self-assessment skills and independent study practices.

In addition, as suggested by Wilson (2019) in a previous ALT blog post, including a weekly discussion of received emails, comments, or tweets would enhance the experience for the students and introduce a dialogic element to the podcasts, further leveraging the affordances of asynchronous and mobile technologies, and moving away from replicating the passivity of the lecture experience.


Al Qasim N and Al Fadda H (2013) From Call to Mall: The Effectiveness of Podcast on EFL Higher Education Students’ Listening Comprehension. English Language Teaching 6(9): 30–41.

Bell D (2008) The university in your pocket. In: Salmon G and Edrisingha P (eds) Podcasting for Learning in Universities. Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill Educaition, pp. 178–187.

Blair E, Maharaj C and Primus S (2016) Performance and perception in the flipped classroom. Education and Information Technologies 21(6): 1465–1482. DOI: 10.1007/s10639-015-9393-5.

Dau S, Andersen R and Nørkjær Nielsen S (2018) Podcast as a Learning Media in Higher Education. In: 17th European Conference on e-Learning ECEL 2018, Greece, November 2018, pp. 424–430. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328569379_Podcast_as_a_Learning_Media_in_Higher_Education.

Fernandez V, Sallan JM and Simo P (2015) Past, Present, and Future of Podcasting in Higher Education. In: Li M and Zhao Y (eds) Exploring Learning & Teaching in Higher Education. New Frontiers of Educational Research. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg, pp. 305–330. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-642-55352-3_14.

Forbes D (2015) Beyond lecture capture: Student-generated podcasts in teacher education. Waikato Journal of Education: 195–206. DOI: 10.15663/wje.v20i3.234.

Hew KF (2009) Use of audio podcast in K-12 and higher education: a review of research topics and methodologies. Educational Technology Research and Development 57(3): 333–357. DOI: 10.1007/s11423-008-9108-3.

Kazanidis I, Pellas N, Fotaris P, et al. (2019) Can the flipped classroom model improve students’ academic performance and training satisfaction in Higher Education instructional media design courses? British Journal of Educational Technology 50(4): 2014–2027. DOI: 10.1111/bjet.12694.

Kazlauskas A and Robinson K (2012) Podcasts are not for everyone. British Journal of Educational Technology 43(2): 321–330. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8535.2010.01164.x.

McLoughlin C, Lee MJW and Chan A (2007) Promoting engagement and motivation for distance learners through podcasting. In: 2007. Available at: https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Promoting-engagement-and-motivation-for-distance-McLoughlin-Lee/fe8dc6dc2be920e1e07899d22b528fa8ef722c14.

Rotellar C and Cain J (2016) Research, Perspectives, and Recommendations on Implementing the Flipped Classroom. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education 80(2). DOI: 10.5688/ajpe80234.

Schreiber BE, Fukuta J and Gordon F (2010) Live lecture versus video podcast in undergraduate medical education: A randomised controlled trial. BMC Medical Education 10(1): 68. DOI: 10.1186/1472-6920-10-68.

Sutton-Brady C, Scott KM, Taylor L, et al. (2009) The value of using short-format podcasts to enhance learning and teaching. Research in Learning Technology 17(3). DOI: 10.3402/rlt.v17i3.10878.

Turner J, Clark K and Dabbagh N (2011) Podcast Use in Higher Education: From the Traditional Lecture to Constructivist Learning Environments. International Journal of University Teaching and Faculty Development 2(1): 55–66.

Zanten RV, Somogyi S and Curro G (2012) Purpose and preference in educational podcasting. British Journal of Educational Technology 43(1): 130–138. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8535.2010.01153.x.

Julian Hopkins, PhD. Learning Technologist and Digital Anthropologist, City of Glasgow College | julian.hopkins@cityofglasgowcollege.ac.uk | https://www.julianhopkins.com

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member.

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

M25-LTG Autumn 2019 Education 4 0


In November 2019 nearly 60 people attended the Autumn meeting of the M25 Learning Technology Group (#M25LTG) at King’s College London. This event was themed around ‘Education 4.0’ and brought together sessions on education surviving industrial revolutions, what Education 4.0 could look like, holographic lecturers and the ‘cold indifference’ of technology.

The event got underway with an opportunity for participants to experience Jisc’s Natalie 4.0, an immersive learning and teaching experience using Oculus Go to put you into the shoes of a student ten years in the future.

Enter into the 4th Industrial Revolution

Ruth Drysdale (Senior co-design manager at Jisc) started the event with a session entitled “Enter into the 4th Industrial Revolution”. We were provided with an overview of the advent of industry 4.0 and how it will impact the provision of education. Ruth discussed how education institutions need to create rounded, creative individuals who have the transferable skills needed to adapt as the world of work, driven by industry 4.0, evolves.

Ruth Drysdale from @Jisc up as the first session at today’s #M25LTG, looking forward to #Education40. #ALTc pic.twitter.com/k00I4aCD0N

— Dom Pates (@dompates) November 18, 2019

We learned that the broad themes of Education 4.0 cover the transformation of teaching, creating an adaptive model of personalised learning, re-imagining assessment and creating intelligent digital and physical estates. We also saw how the Jisc Digital Experiences Insights report highlights the divide between skills needed for the workplace and these skills being provided to students as part of their course. For example, 69% of HE learners & 50% FE learners recognise that digital skills are important in their future career, but only 41%feel that their course is preparing them for the digital workplace.

Ruth concluded by sharing theJisc Digital Capabilities Framework and the resources Jisc offer in supporting institutions to equip their staff and students to thrive in a digital world.

Creating Education 4.0

For our second session we welcomed Professor Gilly Salmon (Academic Director, Online Education Services) and John Brindle (Learning Technologist, University of Liverpool), who guided us through an hour-long workshop for Learning Technologists on “Creating Education 4.0”. In this workshop, we were asked to step through a portal from Education 3.0 to Education 4.0 (sparkly lights provided!) and share what thoughts and emotions came with stepping into the 4.0 world.

@2standandstare walking through the portal to Education 4.0 at #m25ltg pic.twitter.com/7FLM5yQtCA

— John Brindle (@johnbrindletel) November 18, 2019

Following this we divided into groups and, using de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats, discussed how we would reshape the curriculum/mode of learning to enable students to make their best contribution to and benefit from the 4.0 world. 

  • Our positive yellow hats brought ideas of learners creating/co-creating their own educational experiences; personalisation, accessibility and inclusivity improvements; flexibility of delivery and a truly international learning experience. 
  • Our cautious black hats noted concerns around losing communities of learners; technology replacing people; lack of human interaction; parity of student/staff digital skills and the issues of Machine Learning for student assessments.
  • Red hats discussions brought feelings of excitement; concern; caution and confidence, all wrapped in the potential of opportunity and lack of certainty as to what the future brings.
  •  And, the creativity of our green hats saw opportunities for using AI, VR and holograms (foreshadowing!); the removal of assessments and students taking ownership of their content and data.

Following our interesting discussions, groups fed back on their conversations and creative ideas for implementation (blue hat) of Education 4.0 ideas for a preferred and viable future and added their discussions/images onto Padlet.

The Holographic Academic

After a short break and more opportunities to engage with Natalie 4.0, Dom Pates (Senior Educational Technologist from City, University of London) took to the stage to discuss “The Holographic Academic” and the potential of holography in higher education.

Dom took us through a brief history of holograms from Kate Moss’s 2006 appearance at the Paris Fashion show to Indian Prime Minister Modi simultaneously addressing voters at campaign events in 2014. We then looked at the example of the “world’s first holographic event at a university” when Imperial College Business School ran a Women in Tech event which provided a live panel discussion with two speakers on stage in London sat alongside two hologram speakers live from New York.

@dompates talking about speculative design. Question, is this how we can design future learning experiences? #m25ltg pic.twitter.com/IAyiIbBGZL

— John Brindle (@johnbrindletel) November 18, 2019

Following the introduction to holography, the second part of the session enabled us to discuss “speculative (learning) design” and consider what challenges/benefits holographic projection could bring for an institution based on a series of different “what if…” prompts e.g.

  • What if your institution had perfected a technique for creating interactive holographic likenesses for long-dead experts in a range of academic fields?
  • What if your colleague was asked to deliver a lecture holographically with 10mins notice?
  • What if the union had voted for strike action to protest the imposition of 30% cuts in academic staff in favour of holographic delivery methods?

After discussing our challenges and benefits we took to producing artefacts (a prototype, sketch, video, poster, email, tweet etc) which could support the introduction of holography.

All watched over by machines of cold indifference

Concluding the afternoon, we welcomed Chris Fryer (Senior Systems Administrator at the London School of Economics and Political Science) who provided a different lens on Education 4.0 and gave us a cautionary insight into what we can learn from a history of automation and mechanisation. Chris has blogged about his talk in the LSE Learning Technology and Innovation Blog

"Distributed expertise of the taxi driver has been concentrated into a machine but this time there are no looms to smash". Machine learning at the #M25LTG with Chris Fryer pic.twitter.com/9dhpcN4wrG

— TrabiMechanic (@TrabiMechanic) November 18, 2019

Chris highlighted a history of the textile industry and the Jacquard Loom concentrating the profits of the industry in their capitalist owners pockets and discussed a more modern example, explaining the Machine Learning services individuals can rent from Amazon and how it can be used to identify customer churn.

When looking into Learning Technology, Chris highlighted that Machine Learning is being deployed using VLE data points to predict student pass/fail rates and course retention levels. If costs become associated with these Machine Learning metrics they could, if not carefully understood, replace the expertise we have in our institutions. This presentation provided a thought-provoking end to an interesting afternoon and we thank all our presenters and participants for their enthusiasm and engagement.

Our next meeting will take place in Spring 2020 at BPP. Further information, including the event theme, will be circulated via the M25 Jiscmail list closer to the time.

Sue Harrison, Senior Learning Technologist, King’s College London

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member.

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

Research in Learning Technology: Top 10 2019


Any end of year review of learning technology in 2019 would be incomplete without mentioning the following trends; Learning Analytics, Gamification, Mobile Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Social Media or Augmented and Virtual Reality. So, it’s no surprise that these trends are reflected in the most read articles in ALT’s journal, Research in Learning Technology (RLT).

Below is a brief summary of the top ten most read articles of 2019 and, as RLT is an open access journal, readers have free unrestricted viewing of these research papers:

  1. Smart learning environment: Teachers role in assessing classroom attention This is the most viewed article in the RLT journal from 2019. It provides an overview of a classroom with collaborative working environment using new technologies and an indoor location system to evaluate student’s attention. The results of this novel experiment shows that the teacher’s position in the classroom increases the learner’s motivation, collaboration and effective learning.
  2. Embedding educational technologies in early years education. This study used the results of a questionnaire that was sent to early years practitioners in the UK. It asked several different questions; what types of educational technologies are being used in early years education? How is it being used and why is being used? What barriers influence its implementation and what attitudes do early year practitioners have towards educational technology? The findings show that early years practitioners are accessing a wider range of technologies than where previously reported and they are being used in ‘more pedagogical appropriate ways than it was in the past’.
  3. Folk pedagogies and pseudo-theories: how lecturers rationalise their digital teaching The central question that this article attempts to uncover is ‘ what is the role of theories of learning in digital teaching in universities?’. The study found that references were often made to social constructivists approaches but the most widespread justifications for the use of technology were often based on ‘folk pedagogies and pseudo-educational theories’. However, the author notes that these folk and pseudo-theories should be acknowledged and can be used to support and develop digital teaching.
  4. Mobile augmented reality learning objects in higher education. This article looks at the mobile augmented reality app called HP Reveal (formally known as Aurasma). The HP Reveal app allows users to create and interact with layered multimedia experiences when the users are looking at learning objects. Over a two year period the research looked at the publically available data of Universities using the app and confirmed that AR can be used as as a useful tool by educators for a number of purposes, such as interaction, collaboration, digital storytelling and cultural exploration.
  5. Research into effective gamification features to inform e-learning design. This article looks at forty-one case studies of game-based learning over a 10 year period in order to identify the features that made them a success. These features are listed so that they can be used to inform those wishing to introduce gamification into their e-learning design.
  6. Use of the game-based learning platform KAHOOT! to facilitate learner engagement in Animal Science students. Game based learning is one of the major trends in in e-learning so it’s no surprise to see a second article on it in the top ten. This study used the results of seventy-two students about their experiences of using KAHOOT and is the first piece of research to see if there is a direct relationship between the use of KAOOT and the student’s final grades. 
  7. A comparative study on the traditional and intensive delivery of an online course: design and facilitation recommendations  This study compared the experience of a fully online postgraduate course delivered over a ‘traditional’ 13 weeks with an intensive course delivered over 6 weeks. The results found differences in the types of interactions but did show that intensive an intensive course can be as effective as a traditional course in terms of achievement of learning outcomes.
  8. Animating student engagement: The impacts of cartoon instructional videos on learning experience. This study investigates the impact of animated teaching videos on students learning, designed to explain highly complex, technical accounting and business processes. The findings of the study will have significant practical implications for other educators thinking of using animated videos in their teaching.
  9. Students perceptions of the educational value of Twitter: a mixed-methods investigation. This short study set out to investigate how physiotherapy students use Twitter and evaluate how effective Twitter is as an educational tool on their course. The findings indicated that the students valued opportunities to share resources and collaborate with others although it also highlighted potential barriers related to digital literacy and their confidence in using Twitter.
  10. Maximising motivators for technology-enhanced learning for further education teachers: moving beyond the early adopters in a time of austerity. Emily Armstrong’s research explored the views of Further Education staff using technology to support learning. It showed how access to devices, applications and training on their own are insufficient in themselves to motivate use in technology enhanced learning – teachers need opportunities to experiment and develop their confidence as a digital practitioner.

Author Info: Chris Rowell. Academic Developer in Digitally Enhanced Learning at LSBU rowellc@lsbu.ac.uk. @Chri5rowell

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member.

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

Help share ALT s strategy 2020-25 update from the Chair and Chief Executive

ALT staff and the ALT Trustees

Authors: Sheila MacNeill (Chair) and Maren Deepwell (Chief Executive)

Dear Members

Since we updated you in October, work on the next strategy for ALT has continued apace. We are now in the final weeks of the consultation process and here are the key points for you to be aware of.

Make your voice heard

If you haven’t already done so, we invite you to complete this year’s Annual Survey https://go.alt.ac.uk/ALTSurvey2019. We will use the results of this survey to inform the work of ALT for the coming strategy period, what we prioritise and how we put our shared values into practice. We strongly encourage you to complete the survey in your own right, even if you work for a member organisation. Representatives of member organisations are welcome to complete the survey once on an individual basis and also on behalf of their organisation. While this Annual Survey is primarily aimed at ALT Members it is open to anyone to complete. 

Review what we have achieved

We have now published ALT’s Impact Report 2017-20. Access the full report as a PDF or Google doc and visit the report homepage. Introducing the report, Sheila MacNeill, Chair of ALT, said:

“As you will see, the Association has grown in size and influence, serving our Members in all parts of the UK. Close my heart is our commitment to being an open organisation which reaches from our governance and leadership to marketing and communications. Our commitment to openness reflects the need for greater criticality and transparency when it comes to using technology for learning, teaching and assessment. Our Membership includes practitioners, researchers and policy makers from all sectors and together with my fellow Trustees I want to thank everyone involved for helping take ALT from strength to strength.”

Sketchnotes created by Bryan Mathers. Highlights from the strategy consultation

Since the start of the consultation period in June, we have heard from Members via the Strategy Suggestion Box (which continues to be open for contributions until 12 January 2020), in early September the formal consultation with Members and the wider community was launched at the ALT Assembly meeting at the Annual Conference and the Annual General Meeting. Since then, the monthly meetings of the ALT Assembly have continued the consultation process, and staff as well as the Board of Trustees had productive strategy days in November. In December, at this year’s Online Winter Conference, Members took part in a strategy discussion around the Ethics in Learning Technology, facilitated by ALT’s chief executive Maren Deepwell and Professor John Traxler from the University of Wolverhampton. The questions we discussed included:

  • Why do professional bodies have ethical codes or frameworks? What are the benefits?
  • What are typical examples illustrating the breadth of formality, detail and principles?
  • What is so specific about learning, technology and learning technology?
  • Is it just about research ethics?

Members strongly supported establishing a broad ethical framework for Learning Technology professionals and suggested ideas of how this could be put into practice. You can view a recording of the webinar

The shape of things to come

Thanks to the many contributions we have received, it seems clear that ALT’s current aims and values continue to be in line with Members needs. In recognition of this we are looking to refine and strengthen our vision to reflect the challenges ahead and the changing context we work in. Whilst the strategic objectives will only be finalised once we have analysed the results of the survey, we want to share a taste of what is to come with this update to ALT’s definition of Learning Technology:

How we define Learning Technology

We define Learning Technology as the broad range of communication, information and related technologies that are used to support learning, teaching and assessment. We recognise the wider context of Learning Technology policy, theory and history as fundamental to its ethical, equitable and fair use.

For now, thank you to everyone who has already provided input, participated in the consultation events and sent us suggestions. 

We encourage you to take part in the final phase of the consultation until 12 January 2020 and make your voice heard! The new strategy will launch in February 2020. 

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member.

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

What makes a Learning Technologist Part 3 of 4: Roles and duties


A post by Simon Thomson, Director of The Centre for Innovation in Education, University of Liverpool, @digisim

Background to the series

Inspired by topical discussions on the diversity, complexity and uniqueness of Learning Technologist roles, Daniel Scott (Nottingham Trent University) and I recently invited the ALTC community to share their stories of becoming a ‘Learning Technologist’ in all its guises and across a range of educational contexts.

In-conjunction with ALT, a short questionnaire was created to capture the community’s stories. Working with Chris Melia (University of Central Lancashire), we have now pulled together these stories and are presenting them as a series of ALT blog posts entitled: “What makes a Learning Technologist?”. Submissions were made anonymously and credited where necessary – we are only publishing those who have given us permission to do so. Even if participants did not what to have their story published via the blog, we encouraged them to consider completing the form so we could capture the breadth of journeys to becoming a Learning Technologist. We hope this will prove a valuable source of information for the ALT community, that aims to articulate the often-debated, ambiguous and multi-faceted role.

The Association for Learning Technology (ALT) defines Learning Technology as the broad range of communication, information and related technologies that can be used to support learning, teaching and assessment. Our community is made up of people who are actively involved in understanding, managing, researching, supporting or enabling learning with the use of Learning Technology. We believe that you don’t necessarily need to be called ‘Learning Technologist’ to be one.

Setting the scence

This is the third installment (out of four) in the “What makes a Learning Technologist?” blog series. In the first post Daniel Scott explored the plethora of job titles we often see associated with being a Learning Technologist and in the second post Karoline Nanfeldt looked at the career paths taken by Learning Technologists (LTs). As with all these blog posts we often use direct quotations from the submissions and where participants have asked not to be named these are indicated as anonymous quotes.

In this third post we examine the “duties” that LTs take on in the course of their work and if there is one thing you can be sure of it’s that the role of a learning technologist is as varied as the environments we work in and technologies we work with.  However from my analysis of the data, gathered from the 33 Learning Technologists who kindly submitted the information, emerged very clear categorisation of duties.

Presenting the data & telling the stories

The categories were coded with Atlas.ti from the text submissions provided by the original survey with the codes linked to the original submitted text. 

After an initial coding, some codes were merged to get to the current 16, for example some respondents commented on their leadership role in an area and some in their role as managers, but ultimately these two were combined into one group to indicate a duty which involves the oversight of others (either formally within a clearly defined team in one department or informally across a more dispersed environment).

Run the TEL team within our Learning & Teaching Enhancement department

Duncan MacIver

Leadership role developing blended learning across a school


In some cases codes were split, for example ‘systems training’ originally included the development of supporting materials, but it was clear that some participants saw these as separate duties and so they were split.

mainly involves delivering workshops, producing support material and working with individuals


The chart below provides a visual representation of the codes and how often they appeared as codes in the submissions (as a percentage of the total number of code appearances).

As might be expected, “learning system” support was clearly one of the most prevalent duties undertaken by the LTs as part of the role and almost all of the submissions indirectly referred to learning technologies at some point, but this category is specifically where a Learning Technologist has indicated that this “technical support” forms part of their duties.

Provide ‘helpdesk’ support for staff and students using Canvas, Pebblepad and Panopto

Emily Armstrong

troubleshoot for any staff member experiencing technical difficulties with university systems

Lucy-Ann Pickering

The ways in which support was accessed varied and included a range of mechanism such as by email, phone, face to face and virtual helpdesks (including formal IT support ticketing systems), but in all cases they were providing some technical support.

Closely behind ‘systems support’ was ‘systems training’. This duty was categorised based on where participants had clearly indicated that they ran or developed training for ‘learning systems’. This does not include any submissions where the participant made reference to running workshops relating to pedagogic use of systems and technologies as these were categorised separately, but it may be that some submissions relating to ‘training’ do in fact include pedagogic discussion but the submitted data didn’t specify this.

However, it is very clear that pedagogical support is a considerable part of the role of the Learning Technologist. From my own experience this is often a unique aspect of the role, able to bridge the gap between technology and pedagogic practice, making it so much more than a system support or training role and this is supported by some of the data.

Advising on (sic) issues related to digital pedagogy


distance learning pedagogy, processes and production

Madeline Paterson

In some cases there was specific reference to teaching on PGCAP/PGCERT courses, and as such these were coded separately but were also coded to pedagogy.

I now also run a PGCert module for all our new academics with a strong focus on the link between technologies and pedagogic innovations


It is also worth noting here that I also separated out the development of ‘guides & resources’ as a separate code because the data indicated that some LTs were developing resources and guides to support technical systems and/or pedagogic development, but may not always be involved in support or delivery per se.

Guidance for colleagues in their use, guidance for colleagues in the creation of e-learning content


One code that I hadn’t anticipated that would appear quite so often was the “consultancy” duty. Initially this was coded only where a participant specifically referred to themselves in that role, but it became clear that the learning technologist acts as a consultant in a formal and informal capacity both within and beyond their own institution.

TEL consultant for private ed tech company

Matt East

advising on the pedagogically-underpinned use of technology to enhance the student experience

Chris Melia

acting as a consultant on and supporting the creation of online degrees

Vicky Brown

consult with schools, departments and teams

Daniel Scott

Another surprise for me was the prevalence of the “content development” aspect of the role. In all of my own experiences of writing job specs, recruiting and working with learning technologists I have often avoided including the “content developer” role within the duties. This is for a couple of reasons, firstly because it would not be feasible to provide enough learning technologists for the potential content development needs of a large institution and secondly I have always thought it best longer term that as an academic I should be responsible for sourcing and developing my own ‘content’ and having the skills to do so increases my own capacity to provide enriched learning experiences.

However, I am conscious that there are many academic colleagues who just do not have the skills necessary to develop some of the content they may be seeking to as part of their teaching and so having the expertise of a “content developer” can be of tremendous value to individuals, departments and institutions and so ‘content developer’ includes both the role which makes resources but also the role which helps academic colleagues to create those resources.

supporting academic colleagues in the development of high quality online learning materials

Chris Melia

eLearning development using Articulate software, screen-casting using Camtasia


development of online learning and teaching materials


Content development was separated from learning design as a duty due to the fact that learning design often refers to:

a range of activities associated with better describing, understanding, supporting and guiding pedagogic design practices and processes


If I had combined the ‘content developer’ and ‘learning design’ codes it would actually equate to a significant part of a Learning Technologist role, but going through the coding process I think it is right that they are separate, as it is clear that some LTs undertake the creation of granular content (content development) and some have a more holistic “learning design” role which more broadly oversees the development of a whole module/unit as part of a larger learning experience, however I recognise that the lines are blurred here.

learning design / course design

Ross Ward

Analysis, ID, Storyboarding, Development, Design

Craig Campbell

online course design work


It was never really my intention to present each code in detail and so before this post becomes a victim of TL;DR, I just want to explore a couple more code areas which really stood out for me.

The first of these is ‘Systems Procurement’ – I was genuinely surprised how few respondents indicated their involvement in the purchase of ‘learning systems’. This seems to be a huge oversight on the part of institutions not to fully engage with their LT community during the procurement process. It may be of course that because procurement processes do not take place very often participants just neglected to include this in their duties (I am hoping this is the case).

And finally, I wanted to end this post focussing on the category which highlights the “development” of learning technologists. Within the data there were no specific examples where anyone indicated that undertaking formal qualifications or training were part of their duties e.g. CMALT (bearing in mind that I was specifically looking at data submitted in the roles section of the survey). I wonder if this is because it’s not always necessarily considered a “duty”? From my own experience I know a number of colleagues who have completed postgraduate studies in digital education / TEL / Multi-media whilst being in learning technologist roles and so it is highly probable that other LTs have also undertaken formal development like this.

However, what is more apparent is that respondents engaged in lots of informal development through ‘Networking’ and ‘Keeping Up to Date” (although with the latter it was not always clear how this was being achieved).

For example one anonymous participant clearly indicated their role in “Appraising authoring tools, horizon scanning in relevant areas” and a few put in terms such as “staying/keeping up to date”. ‘Networking’ as a duty was merged to a single code and refers to both internal organisational formal groups “representing the team on relevant groups and committees in the University” and informal “Fostering communities of practice to share innovative approaches” as well as networking more widely beyond the institution such as “speaking at events” and “collaborating and liaising with colleagues at (named external organisation)”.


Reading through the submissions to undertake the coding was a really insightful process, firstly because initially there appeared to be a wider range of codes (I started out with about 25 codes) but as I was able to merge codes the story of the duties undertaken by LTs began to emerge. It would be a very interesting exercise to compare participants original job descriptions with the results of this survey data to see the extent to which these codes overlapped or were in anyway different – perhaps a little project for the future?

Although this is a limited dataset, it is nonetheless a really useful insight into the duties carried out by those in Learning Technologist roles. 

If you didn’t get a chance to complete the survey then please feel free to add your own experiences and thoughts in the comments section of this blog post.

Closing thought: You may like to consider to what extent do your “duties” as a Learning Technologist fit into the sixteen coded categories identified in this blog post? Are there any duties you carry out as an LT that aren’t represented by the sixteen codes – please tell us in the comments.

Contributors consented to display name

Emily Armstrong; Sonya McChristie; Duncan MacIver; Tom Buckley; Matt East; Craig Campbell; Madeline Paterson; Teresa MacKinnon; Richard Oelmann; Sarah; Leanne Fitton; Ross Ward; Ros Walker; Vicky Brown; Rae Bowdler; Simon Wood; Daniel Scott; Andy Tattersall; Rachel Hartshorne; Chris Melia; Lucy-Ann Pickering

Upcoming blog post

The final blog post of this series (4 of 4) will explore some of the associated challenges and ‘best bits’ of the ‘Learning Technologist’ role. It is expected to be published in March 2020.

Simon Thomson is Director of the Centre for Innovation in Education at the University of Liverpool and an Editor for the ALT Journal – Research in Learning Technology, @digisim

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member.

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

Maren Deepwell in conversation with Ian Dolphin


This time I am joined by Ian Dolphin, the Executive Director of the Apereo Foundation. Ian and I have a lot in common and I am glad to be able to share this brief glimpse into his community and the work Ian does:

Maren: Tell us about what you are currently working on?

Ian: There are a couple of major areas of work for the Apereo Foundation at present. The Apereo incubation process, which is designed to help software develop from being a ‘good idea’ to being realised, working software with a sustaining community, is four years old. We’re taking a good look at how that process has worked with a view to its iteration and continued development. We’re also reviewing our annual events. Apereo and our close partners support eight or nine community events around the world each year. We’re radically changing our main international conference next June to include a greater focus on teaching and learning, and to be more inclusive. With a global membership, including the global South, and global software adoption, that’s challenging. In a broader sense, our community is grappling with issues surrounding privacy and technology in higher education. Those issues aren’t going away, in my opinion, and we need vastly more awareness of issues surrounding technology use and privacy in the sector.

Maren: What influences your work? 

Ian: More than anything, the communities Apereo supports. I am continually inspired by the small and large scale innovation our communities enable for Apereo institutions, their learners, and educators.

Maren: Current recommended reading?  

Ian: The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff; Future Histories: What Ada Lovelace, Tom Paine, and the Paris Commune Teach Us about Digital Technology by Lizzie O’Shea; The New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future by James Bridle. You might notice a theme … I believe anyone involved with technology should constantly challenge it’s applicability and use.

Maren: How do you make your to-do lists.. analogue or digital or both? 

Ian: I tend to jot things down the old-fashioned way with a notebook and pen, but then review and consolidate a couple of times each day. At that point, everything becomes digital, and shared between the devices I use.

Maren: On work travel, you are never without..? 

Ian: Too much – I’ve never learned to travel light! Laptop, phone, ebook reader, camera, noise cancelling headphones and music player are my essentials.

Maren: Which learning technology makes the biggest difference to your work (and why)? 

Ian: I’m not sure this fits the categories, but open source software has had a massive impact on my working life. I became involved in open source software in the late ‘90’s – early naughties to help solve problems for the institution I worked for. Since then, either in my former role at Jisc, or working for Sakai and later Apereo, I have felt privileged to work with communities reaching for practical innovation to support learning, teaching and research. I suspect almost anyone involved in open source software would at least mention the word “community” as a significant reason for their engagement. I certainly would.

Maren: Who are your learning technology heroes?

Ian: The communities I represent.

Maren: If you had learning technology superpowers for a day, what would you change? 

Ian: The rigid product category of ‘Learning Management System’ or ‘Virtual Learning Environment’. It’s about time to shed the constraints that accompany the LMS and get outside its particular box. Open source software, such as that created by Apereo software communities, has a significant role to play in this.

Maren: What are your favourite hashtags?  

Ian: apereo #oss , and #edtech.

Maren: What’s the best way for someone to learn more about what you do?  

Ian: I’m @iandolphin24 on Twitter, check out www.apereo.org . If you want to know where I am (or where I’ve just been) Flickr is often the best bet, where I’m iandolphin24.

Maren: Thanks for taking the time to join me, Ian, #altc!

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

Employing a student intern to make a library video What can go right or awry


N Dixon, Learning Technologist at ARU Library

We employed an ARU student (Kate Laver, MA Film and Television Production) as an intern for an employability initiative and working closely with us she produced a promotional but educational video for the library. The 12-week, part-time internship was a fantastic opportunity for students either finishing or part way through a course to get practical experience of producing videos to a brief. Here I describe my perspective of working with Kate to produce the video.

Getting started

In terms of influences, there are loads of videos out there that introduce libraries to new students, including walkabout tours, marketing videos and screencasts. Many are made by library staff, professional video production companies or created by students as part of their assessment. For us it was important to get an authentic voice because YouTubers (who are also students) like Ibz Mo can reveal more about study habits and library use than professionally produced videos. We also wanted something fun, engaging and memorable that would appeal to students who use social media and show a more humorous side to the library.  Other influences included TopekaLibrary’s parody of a Taylor Swift videoBYU Library’s ‘Ask a Librarian’ and Fayetteville Free Library’s lib dub style.

Our video is called Ferret Grey’s Re-Searching for the Drop Bear which is shot in a spoof nature documentary style. In the video, a new student called Ferret Grey is looking for information on drop bears and Ferret looks everywhere, eventually finding out drop bears don’t exist. In the end he sees his Subject Librarian to get help and realises they were the drop bear he was looking for all along. By using narrative, we thought students could identify with Ferret plus it allows for subtle interactions which brings up surprises every time you watch the video.

By employing Kate as an intern, we established a good balance between her ideas and our brief. Our preference was that the video was a maximum of three minutes for optimum engagement viewing time and the video was to include the ‘three S’s’ of the library – Space, Support and Services. (We excluded Stuff because this video was aimed at new students from all faculties and we didn’t want it to go out of date too quickly.) Kate had a lot of experience in producing and editing videos and with her background in illustration she was able to use animation with tools like TV Paint and Premier Pro as another way to engage the audience, with Kick the PJ and School Of Life being two of Kate’s influences. 

Challenges and considerations

Having a clear brief with regular communication was important so the video remained within scope. After researching the above ideas from YouTube it would have been easy to go off track, and although Kate had her own perspective of the library as a student it was important to emphasise the broad range of services the library has to offer so the video would appeal to all ARU students from each faculty. Although showed students using study spaces and services such as the help desk in the video, there are loads of other things we didn’t show – online resources, laptop loans, information literacy sessions so we had to be realistic that not everything can appear in a three-minute video.

Keeping the timeline of the project on track was another challenge, especially when consulting colleagues on the content as the video was developed. For example, the first cut of the video brought strong suggestions on how we could improve the narrative which weren’t flagged up at the storyboard stage. Although this did mean reshooting significant parts of the video it meant the second cut made more sense. This still brought some (completely different) suggestions on how to better represent the library but to implement these changes required a highly defined script and even more re-shoots. Getting feedback is fine but you sometimes have to draw a line when the video fits the brief (engaging, memorable and fun), so we had to remember we couldn’t please everyone.

One of the issues was that when using untrained actors (i.e. enthusiastic students and library staff) you can write a script, but the actors do not always say what you intended. We recruited our main actor Max Elgar (also MA Film and Television Production at ARU) for an initial half day of shooting then another for re-shoots, so every scene had to be shot in three takes at most. In this scenario, we kept the script simple for the actors to follow and we prioritised which scenes we shot first.

In terms of other practical considerations it was important to build in time for Kate to get to know the team, our procedures as well as learning office tools like MS Outlook which were important for planning and communication. Kate also had a mentor from our team not involved in the video, so there were plenty of support to help her develop her skills.

Kate used her illustration skills in TV Paint and Premier Pro 

An unintended in-joke as the PC wasn’t working at the time, though the side benefit is the video is less likely to age without the library website The Canon C100 was great for establishing background shots of the library and up-close scenes with actors

Author Info: N Dixon, Learning Technologist at ARU Library, neil.dixon@anglia.ac.uk

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member.

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Digital Literacy: Concepts Challenged by the Occupation


Post by John Traxler

Digital literacy is a prerequisite to digital learning, and a vital aspect of the working lives of learning technologists. It embraces the knowledge, skills, attitudes and access that enable individuals to survive, prosper and flourish in an increasingly digital world. Its conceptualisation and implementation have however mostly taken place in the developed world, specifically Europe.  Even in this relatively stable and homogeneous environment, its development has not been uncontested, with fears it is merely the IT curriculum rebranded for the current graduate employment market.  Outside these environments, however, the challenges and opportunities can be dramatically different, as can the cultural, educational, political and technological contexts.

Palestine is under Israeli occupation. There are pervasive problems in maintaining the continuity, consistency and quality of a school system under constant pressure. This is due to “routine” interruptions and disruptions from the occupation, specifically the checkpoints, curfews and closedowns, but also episodes of injury, imprisonment, violence and death.

Children playing near a checkpoint in Palestine (Photo by John Traxler)

Digital technologies could be used to address each set of problems and challenges on a reactive and piecemeal basis but part of the research described here used fieldwork to explore the possibility that ‘digital literacy’, in the form understood and experienced by learning technologists in Europe, was inadequate elsewhere and specifically in Palestine because of:

  • The focus on the individual with no mention of the community and the culture
  • The lack of recognition of the impact and hegemony of global English or of American digital technology
  • The potential importance of digital space and digital identity for a community and culture with severe constraints on its physical space and its physical identity
  • The need to express widespread trauma, loss and pain in circumstances where physically meeting or demonstrating were prohibited or problematic

This blog discusses empirical research to explore digital literacy within the context of the Israeli occupation of Palestine specifically in relation to teachers and their students, by focussing on accounts of the impact of the occupation and on the current use of digital technologies. Many poignant quotes illustrate the situation; one teacher says

The learner suffers from a psychological crisis and sleeps next to his family in Al- Shweikeh because one of his relatives was martyred and the soldiers come every night to search the house which led to the child’s fear of everyone at school and the constant going to the lavatory.

This is just one quote, typical of many, coming from Palestinian primary teachers in Nablus, in the north of occupied Palestine. They were describing the impact of the Israeli occupation on their professional lives and the lives of their learners but also describing the role of digital learning technology in a complex and troubled environment. The quotes come from focus groups held in December 2018 with six groups of teachers on the campus of An Najah National University in Nablus, organised by the Faculty of Educational Sciences. The topics grew out of a large-scale survey of over 500 teachers that explored the impact of the occupation on teachers’ professional lives.

One teacher remarked that no child in her class was unaffected by a death or wounding in the immediate family.

To give some further context, the teachers describe the difficulties of the daily commute, listing,

“The daily checkpoints between the school and the house, involuntary returning from the checkpoint to the house, the late arrival [at] the school, the separation wall and standing in front of the gates for hours.”

And interruptions to teaching and learning, variously

”Teachers are afraid when the Israeli soldiers pass by the school; that affects my performance thus reduces the quality of teaching.”

“The Israeli army’s entry into the school leads to violence and squabbles which affects the learning environment.”

“The presence of the tank in front of the school and the denial of access to the school were a major reason for our inability to focus on education as the time was wasted by talking about it amongst students.”

The teachers also describe how learners are affected by experiences in their everyday lives outside school,

“… having an empty chair with a martyr’s photo on it and the refusal of students to sit on the chair in order to commemorate and respect the martyr, leads all the students to continuing talking about him and remembering the incident.”


 “Absence from school to visit family members in prisons such as mother, father and its effect on the student’s psychological health, lack of financial resources because of the occupation, and the limited education to rote learning because of the absence of activities.”

Also, elsewhere,

“The mother sleeps in prayer clothes because the soldiers might invade the house while the family is sleeping, the arrest of students at a school in one of the Jenin camps, …”

Parts of both the survey and focus groups explored teachers’ use of digital technology, such as SMS, websites and videos, to support learning in the face of the situation they describe. They used whatever was available, but the survey revealed technically savvy teachers in reasonable well-equipped schools alongside other teachers with much less competence, support and infrastructure.

The findings also described the combined impact of the lack of specifically Palestinian digital resources and of restrictions on travel, particularly to Jerusalem, depriving their students of a fuller sense of their Palestinian identity.

A classroom in Palestine (Photo by John Traxler)

The methodological details are available (Traxler et al 2019). This followed earlier work (Traxler 2018) that was critical in a more general sense of the gap between the high ideals in which digital literacy is conceptualised and articulated and the patchy way it is often then implemented. This would be especially worrying if it was uncritically ‘copy-and-pasted’ on to the Palestinian education system. Given problems with criticality and capacity in parts of academia in the cultures of the Middle East, this is a significant risk. The findings could underpin a more comprehensive and appropriate definition of digital literacy for the Palestinian education system, from kindergarten and schools to higher education and adult community learning. This would start from a more holistic and comprehensive analysis of the threats, pressures, experiences, resources and opportunities of individuals, their community and their culture and asking how digital technologies can contribute to lives and learning that they value. Digital literacy could be defined as the attitudes, access, competences and knowledge to take them from the former to the latter. This approach would moreover be generally applicable to any community and culture, thereby creating greater ownership and understanding of digital learning.

This project, funded by a Council for British Research in the Levant travel grant and led by John Traxler, assisted by colleagues from An Najah University in Nablus, built on the author’s on-going missions and projects in the region, including significant work with UNRWA, the British Council and EU Erasmus programmes, in Palestine, in the wider region including Lebanon and Gaza, and with refugees in Europe. An earlier blog post by John Traxler describes “A couple of days’ work in Gaza“.


Traxler, J., Khaif, Z., Nevill, A. & Affouneh, S., et al (2019) Living Under Occupation: Palestinian Teachers’ Experiences and their Digital Responses, Research in Learning Technology, https://journal.alt.ac.uk/index.php/rlt/article/view/2263

Traxler, J. (2018), Digital Literacy: A Palestinian Refugee Perspective, Research in Learning Technology, Vol. 26, pp1 – 21, https://journal.alt.ac.uk/index.php/rlt/article/view/1983

John Traxler (FRSA), Professor of Digital Learning, University of Wolverhampton, john.traxler@wlv.ac.uk | johntraxler on twitter and skype

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member.

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

What makes a Learning Technologist Part 2 of 4: Career paths


A post by Karoline Nanfeldt, Learning Technologist at Heriot-Watt University, www.karolinenanfeldt.com, @knanfeldt

Background to the series

Inspired by topical discussions on the diversity, complexity and uniqueness of Learning Technologist roles, Daniel Scott (Nottingham Trent University) and Simon Thomson (University of Liverpool) recently invited the ALTC community to share their stories of becoming a ‘Learning Technologist’ in all its guises and across a range of educational contexts.

In-conjunction with ALT, a short questionnaire was created to capture the community’s stories. Working with Chris Melia (University of Central Lancashire), we have now pulled together these stories and are presenting them as a series of ALT blog posts entitled: “What makes a Learning Technologist?”. Submissions were made anonymously and credited where necessary – we are only publishing those who have given us permission to do so. Even if participants did not what to have their story published via the blog, we encouraged them to consider completing the form so we could capture the breadth of journeys to becoming a Learning Technologist. We hope this will prove a valuable source of information for the ALT community, that aims to articulate the often-debated, ambiguous and multi-faceted role.

The Association for Learning Technology (ALT) defines Learning Technology as the broad range of communication, information and related technologies that can be used to support learning, teaching and assessment. Our community is made up of people who are actively involved in understanding, managing, researching, supporting or enabling learning with the use of Learning Technology. We believe that you don’t necessarily need to be called ‘Learning Technologist’ to be one.

Setting the scene

Many thanks to those who shared their stories with us – 38 responded to our questionnaire. As the blog posts on this topic will reveal in the next few months, the submissions tell very unique stories of how individuals came to be Learning Technologists or are indeed in the process of developing into one. The responses include insights on how they perceive their role, what it entails, the best parts of it, and some of challenges they are up against. 

I was asked if I wanted to write this second blog post in the series, about the career path people took to become a Learning Technologist. This blog post will cover the question “What ‘career’ path did you travel to get to your current position?” from the questionnaire. You can find Part 1: Job Titles, here.

Presenting the data & telling the stories

Perhaps not surprising to anyone who has asked a Learning Technologist how they got to their role – not one of the responses described the same career path. It was therefore a rather difficult task to really sum up the data, considering every individuals story was unique. This also highlights the difficulty in providing some simple advice around what experience is needed to become a Learning Technologist. I think Chris Melia sums up everyone’s story fairly well: 

My own career pathway to learning technology, probably isn’t the most conventional one!

Chris Melia

Another response started out with… 

Am I allowed to laugh at this point?

Ros Walker

I have tried to sum up the data by looking at similarities in the backgrounds of those who went into learning technology as a career: 

Not everyone mentioned their background, but this was one way to provide an overview of the data. There were a few trends from some of the respondents. Some did not mention their educational background, but there do seem to be a few degrees that pop up – including computer science, multimedia and languages. Many also have a background in teaching, before becoming intrigued by what technology could offer in a learning and teaching context. It seems that teaching often progresses to an interest in utilising technologies more, and leads individuals to seek out a role in learning technology. Quite a few participants mentioned teaching languages as their initial area. I think Daniel Scott’s blog offers a very good insight into how people transition into learning technology.

While many of these paths are unique, there are also similarities.

I used to be a teacher and manager in FE. I did a Masters in Multimedia and Virtual Environments, then got a job as a Learning Technologist in HE.

Simon Wood

I trained as a linguist, and worked as a languages teacher. From there, I realised that computers could help pupils with their learning.

Ros Walker

There were three respondents (myself included) who had been involved with learning technology as a student. Matt East described how he became heavily involved in technology-enhanced learning as a student president. Similarly, I myself became a Learning Technologist after being a student intern on the roll-out of lecture recording at our institution.

Madeline Paterson commented that she had been in the field since the 1980s, and that while the context and technologies have changed, the core skills remain remarkably similar.

What are the progression routes for Learning Technologists?

When we talked about this blog post, we ended up having an interesting discussion around potential progression routes once you have landed yourself a learning technology role.

We agreed that there is not one clear-cut or direct route to becoming a Learning Technologist. However, many enjoy moving into learning technology, as it allows them to combine a love for learning and teaching with technology. In addition it allows us to be both technical and pedagogical, all at the same time.

But how do you professionally progress once you feel comfortable with both the technology and the pedagogy? If you read the weekly digests, most LT roles have a salary from around 15k-25k per year in FE and 25k-45k per year in HE. It is also becoming more increasingly common that these roles are on fixed-term contracts of less than two years.

Learning Technologists also often use their enthusiasm to get involved in projects outside their usual remit – to continuously improve their expertise in new areas. Yet, this is usually more of a sideways move than career progression per-se.

Many Learning Technologists are willing to put in the hard work to gain further accreditation, such as Certified Membership of the Association of Learning Technologists (CMALT) as well as Fellowship of HEA – or at least feel like they have to be very committed to their CPD, to maintain their credibility or to demonstrate commitment. Several also complete further postgraduate studies or doctorates. But still – there is almost an invisible ceiling if you would like to progress. It is difficult to decipher what the right route is once you have “seen and done it all” in a learning technology role.

What we could identify during our discussions, were three of the typical routes for progressing upwards in learning technology:

  1. Professional services management – e.g. Head of Digital Learning and Head of Technology Enhanced Learning
  2. Academic development (though we often lack the doctorate or perceived academic skills to progress into such a role)
  3. Corporate/commercial sector

These are not necessarily right for everyone, yet institutions rarely offer more specialised or senior positions without management responsibilities.

We also identified that career paths often seem to be like the diagram below:

This is obviously slightly provocative discussion, but nevertheless an important one. Can you relate to the feeling of a ceiling to your own career progression?

We highlighted that this may be due to a lack of perceived value for Learning Technologists at a more senior level. Maybe it is because we are often willing to be flexible with what we do and our responsibilities. I wrote a blog post on my own blog, trying to put into words some of my initial thoughts around what a Learning Technologist does. Maybe the CPD we do undertake is not recognised as valuable by our institutions, or recognised to support our further career progression.

Trying to think of when you can fit in all the CPD! (Image by LuvCoffee on pixabay.com)

However, CMALT helps to formalise your skills – especially with the development of the Associate and Senior route on top of the standard CMALT. It also gives you an opportunity to further reflect and understand your role as a Learning Technologist.

We are potentially going into a future where we are looking to define new roles that currently don’t exist, as we grow more specialised and increase our online delivery of learning and teaching.

One anonymous contributor said that they initially moved into a lecturer role – which involved supporting other lecturers to use technology, but still allowed them to research and teach. They are now in a professional services role, which they are enjoying less.

Another said that she came into the industry after her local authority decided they wanted one in the 00’s – and so her first task was to figure out exactly what they wanted.

Vocational routes

Whilst a ‘traditional route’ to becoming a Learning Technologist is not always visible, there are vocational qualifications that can get you started on this journey or get you nationally recognised. The qualifications below were developed with the intention of creating direct career pathways into learning technology and eLearning roles, or recognising knowledge and skills of those already in them.

Those who have teaching or training experience may like to increase their skillset or progress to a role focused on these topics. Likewise, those that have computing or graphic design experience can work towards these to become Instructional Designers or Learning Technologists. The qualifications can also give you an insight to what skills and attributes a Learning Technologist role requires. I highly recommend these to anyone that has the role or an interest in learning technology to support and enhance learning and teaching and eLearning design.


Closing thought: It never ceases to amaze me how people get into learning technology, and how the diversity of their backgrounds benefits the the wider community. I hope the thoughts around progression will spark some interesting discussions. Do you feel like there is a progression as a Learning Technologist? Are there any CPD opportunities or qualifications that you would recommend to others?

Contributors consented to display name

Emily Armstrong; Sonya McChristie; Duncan MacIver; Tom Buckley; Matt East; Craig Campbell; Madeline Paterson; Teresa MacKinnon; Richard Oelmann; Sarah; Leanne Fitton; Ross Ward; Ros Walker; Vicky Brown; Rae Bowdler; Simon Wood; Daniel Scott; Andy Tattersall; Rachel Hartshorne; Chris Melia

Upcoming blog post

The next blog post of this series (3 of 4) will explore some of the key roles and responsibilities of ‘Learning Technologists’. It is expected to be published in January 2019.

Karoline Nanfeldt – Learning Technologist, Heriot-Watt University
www.karolinenanfeldt.com, @knanfeldt

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member.

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

Maren Deepwell in conversation with Pat Lockley


This time I am joined by Pat Lockley (@pgogy), Chief Pogoing Penguin, Pgogy Webstuff. Pat’s work has long inspired me and one of my favourite projects that Pat is involved in is the PressED Conference – a tweeting WordPress conference. So I am particularly excited to find out more about Pat’s work and what’s on his mind just now:

Maren: Tell us about what you are currently working on?

Pat: So I’m mostly working on a glaucoma disease progression and treatment model for Moorfields / UCL. I’ve only just finished a version of it, and the delay is largely down to the fact it’s hard to stop helping prevent blindness to answer questions.

How does an ALT member end up here – well, it started with working on various courses to help build capacity for ophthalmologists in West Africa. These courses happen on UCL’s Extend platform, and are available to various cohorts as part of a blended learning project with the online courses used as a prerequisite of a practical course in West Africa. So I started out making articulate content for them. I’ve seen a lot of sliced up eyeballs for my troubles…..

Bar that, I am working on a few WordPress sites (I pretty much am always doing this). Just finished migration the Sociological Review onto WordPress. Helping out with a UWE / Loughborough / Warwick project on storytelling and droughts with some visualisations. Helping a charity to develop a new theme, moving another charity to a new host. Just helped the Foundation Year Network to get more from their WordPress install. I work on a ridiculous number of projects at any one time. I am sure I’ve missed one. 

I spend a lot of time in WordPress, and so I’m helping out the WordPress Governance Project – https://wpgovernance.com/ . The goal of the project is try to introduce a governance structure so people using and developing WordPress know how and what decisions are being made. Anyone who is interested can get involved in the project, so join in if you want to contribute.

Individually, though this may question the meaning of the word “work”, I am working on giving back to projects I use, perhaps not use, perhaps rely on. So as well as the governance project I help out with WP Campus Security Blog (https://wpcampus.org/category/security/). Which is a vital read if you’re using WordPress at all. WP Campus is worth a look too. It’s an awesome conference on using WordPress in Education – https://wpcampus.org/. They organised a fund to help sort out the accessibility issues in the new WordPress editor. Really important stuff.

Longer term, I’m working on building a WordPress security tool, an improvement on the neoliberal tyre fire that is openness, and a top secret project to help get rid of some of the barriers that mire almost every thing in elearning.

Maren: What influences your work? 

Pat: Choice. There’s nothing more than I dread than saying no. That’s not through some acquiescent, submissive character trait but just the sense of admitting something isn’t possible saddens me. Perhaps there’s a terrier like never quit trait in me that just wants to get things done.  Do I believe there’s such a thing as a lost cause? No.

Before I got into elearning, I was in IT support. I spent a long time working out how to fix problems. It was a bit of a culture shock to suddenly have such big systems around me which I couldn’t change / or couldn’t be changed at all.

When writing code to make open source, it’s always on the back of your mind how others may use it. So you’ll see little side paths and short cuts all the time. An example of this is when me made the laws MOOC for the University of London. You can see some of the thinking behind it here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uw6mmKtKduo. We tried to assume there was never one path everyone would take and built accordingly.

Maren: Current recommended reading?  

Pat: Oi Cat, Oi Dog, Oi Frog and Oi Duck-Billed Platypus. Three seminal elearning texts and not just what I read to my kids before they pretend to go to sleep. They all focus on the dangers of rules and taxonomies created by unquestionable, unelected dictators. Which is basically elearning naming conventions gone awry.

The last education book I read was Illich’s Deschooling Society, which introduced “false public goods” to me as a concept. I’ve found that a really useful tool to look at a lot of things.

Maren: How do you make your to-do lists.. analogue or digital or both? 

Pat: Well, I tend to work on the basis that if it’s important I’ll remember it. I use trello a bit on projects, but I tend to spend a lot of time coming up with new cards and ideas so things tend to get cluttered. Once to-do lists become two dimensional things tend to get a bit weird.

I’m very stream of consciousness in most things, so I tend to not think to do, but instead just do.

Maren: On work travel, you are never without..? 

Pat: Dongle, my almost classic car age Nissan Micra. I have my phone and laptop too, but sadly I’ve not named them yet.

Maren: Which learning technology makes the biggest difference to your work (and why)? 

Pat: XAMPP (https://www.apachefriends.org/index.html). XAMPP is an easy way to get a web server onto your laptop. Once you’ve got a webserver, you can install WordPress, Moodle…. a fair lot of elearning tech. Using this you can really open up open source code and start to make changes and learn how things work.

Maren: Who are your learning technology heroes?

Pat: Back in the day, I had a band, and on myspace bands had to list their influences on their profile. My band has “who wants to be influenced anyways”. That’s very much my take on heroes. However, we live in a time of imposter syndrome and increased anxiety, so anyone one of you working at a public college or university, working to help people learn, working to help increased public knowledge, is a hero to me.

Someone asked me this question about 7 years ago. The person I named has sadly gone downhill so fast that I am loathe to name someone again in case I’m cursed. However, it might be that I see a lot of villains and not heroes. There are so many people out there who need to really stop and take some time considering their influence and being more careful with their words. There’s so much self-publicity masquerading as debate. Some silver tongues covering us brass necks.

You didn’t ask me to list the villains though. Shame eh

Oh, Natalie Lafferty’s bravery in doing the pressED (pressedconf.org) conference with me was somewhere beyond heroic. 

Maren: If you had learning technology superpowers for a day, what would you change? 

Pat: I’d fly around and gather up every VLE and then fly to the nearest black hole and push them in. Then I’d take that black hole and push that into another black hole. Then I’d take that black hole and push it to the edge of the universe, take a selfie with it (black holes have lovely smiles) and then leave it. I’d still write every now and then, I’m not a monster.

If you think that’s excessive, ask yourself if I’ve really made them harder to use and more inaccessible by placing them in a black holes at the edge of the universe?

To be immodest for one brief moment and paraphrase Bentham, but VLEs are no longer nonsense on stilts but nonsense on stilts on rollerskates. Calling them wobbly gives the false impression it was ever not wobbly.  It’s not even the fault of the VLE, it’s the fault of sending one tool to do a million jobs, and finding that masters of a trade beat jacks-of-all-trades. The single tool culture / approach / methodology is just a sunk-cost fallacy. 

Giving people a choice of system brings overheads, but using a system which has an ability to be slightly more varied would be a good start and I suspect start to reduce time spent saying “no, it can’t do that”

Maren: What are your favourite hashtags?  

Pat: #pressEdConf19 #pressEdConf18 because I am biased. #lthechat is good.

#altc is also good, and you get to appear on one of those network diagrams Martin draws each morning. It must take him ages to do. He should be paid more.

Maren: What’s the best way for someone to learn more about what you do?  

Pat: If you’ve got this far and you’re still interested, @pgogy on twitter or on facebook. At some I need to restart my blog. I do a lot of stuff no one knows about, and it makes sense to start sharing that.

Maren: Thanks for taking the time to join me, Pat, #altc!

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

The importance of induction courses in online international programmes


A common assumption when launching online programmes aimed at global audiences is that, provided the potential applicants fulfil the entry requirements (e.g. English language requirements, academic qualifications, etc.) they are already well prepared to start their online studies. Yet this is a dangerous assumption.

My experience leading the delivery of online international programmes is that, international students come from diverse education systems and may not be aware of the skills required when studying online, a delivery model that some students may not be familiar with. Hence the importance of the induction course.

What are the benefits of having an induction course in an online international programme?

The purpose of an induction course is twofold:

  • To make new students aware of the type of skills and knowledge that they need to develop to be successful in their studies.
  • To inform those new students about the resources and support provided by the programme to help students develop those skills.

The induction course is essentially the gateway to everything students need to know before they start their courses.

When developing an online induction course, we need to address three key questions:

  • What topic/contents should the course cover?
  • How much support would the induction course require in terms of academic, technology and admin support?
  • What sort of interventions/remedial plan can we put in place for those students who require additional help?

Julie Andrews would say, let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start: the course topics.

What topic/contents should an induction course include?

When designing induction courses, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel or work in silos. Your induction course can be built upon existing high-quality materials already available in your institution. You only need to repurpose those resources providing a digital narrative to students. Likewise, other colleagues may benefit from your induction course and repurpose it for their own requirements. These are the benefits when educators work as a community of practice.

The induction course should typically cover topics such as:

  • Technology for studying online (and include minimum requirements to study online).
  • Digital literacy.
  • Academic, organisational and time-management skills.
  • Referencing and scholarship.
  • Library resources.
  • Other students support services etc.

Some induction courses also mention academic regulations, deferrals and other aspects that are usually covered in the Student Handbook. My advice is to keep the induction course concise providing links to the relevant resources for further information. As a rule of thumb, an induction should be completed in a couple of hours, including any coursework.

As mentioned before, the costs of writing the course can be reduced by repurposing any resources that your colleagues may have already developed as well as using Open Educational Resources (OER). 

The costs of providing academic support can also be reduced if you include self-assessment methods in which students can self-assess different sets of skills, comparing their answers with a model answer or generic feedback. Activities based on self-assessment can save the tutor’s time while underpinning students’ assessment literacy, a skill that students will need to develop to understand the assessment methods of their academic courses.

Admin and technology-related costs for running an induction course are usually low provided the course is delivered via the institutional Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)/learning platform and the enrolment procedures are integrated with the institution’s Management Information Systems (MIS).  Under those assumptions, admin support can be kept to a minimum of a couple of hours per week, just to monitor student progress through the course. Most VLEs in the market include reporting tools that can facilitate this task.  

The induction course can also include ‘getting-started-with’ and troubleshooting guides in which students can test if they have the hardware and software requirements to run the technologies and web tools that will be employed in their online studies. Including technology-testing activities in the induction course can reduce the costs of supporting technology in the long term and will take certainly take away the stress of having to fix technology problems while running synchronous or asynchronous activities in a live course.

Early interventions: what to do and who to contact?

In the induction course, you should make clear to the students who they should contact:

  • For any queries relating to the learning activities, topics or the coursework.
  • For any problems relating to the learning platform or the learning technologies used in the course.

If the induction course is monitored by an online tutor or course administrator, this staff member is usually the ‘first-port-of-call’. Otherwise, students may be directed to different addresses depending on the type of help that they need (i.e. technology-related queries are usually diverted to technical support services while queries relating to the course topics are diverted to an academic tutor).  

Some students may find difficult to self-assess their knowledge and may require additional help. Be prepared to support these queries as self-assessment does not mean zero running costs. Provided the self-assessment coursework is well designed, my experience is that only a low percentage of the students will require additional help with the tasks (let’s estimate less than 5% of the course cohort).

The best way of implementing early interventions in an induction course is to make students aware of the help available for any gaps that they may have identified in their skills and knowledge. The induction course should make clear to students where to go and who to contact depending on the identified shortfalls.

I hope that this blog post gives you a good insight into why, when launching international online programmes, it is important to spend some time developing an induction course:  The ultimate purpose of the induction course is to let students know they are not alone if they find themselves struggling with some of the topics or skills covered, that there is  help in place at the beginning of their studies when remedial action can still be taken.

Post by Mari Cruz García, an education consultant whose expertise is the development of international programmes (online and blended learning). Currently, she works at Heriot-Watt University and is on Twitter at @soyunbotruso1.

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member.

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT