What is a Learning Technologist and how a train to Huddersfield helped me find the answer

In my last post I said I’d be exploring more on the topic of what is a Learning Technologist (LT). There has been a lot of excellent work on this of course, detailing the varied and complex roles, tasks, job titles and activities of an LT. This is not a repeat of all that work, rather an attempt at summarising the role of a Learning Technologist with an analogy and I think I found it, on a train to Huddersfield.

Blue headphones being held over yellow background with cord trailing.
Photo by Alex Gruber on Unsplash

Active Noise Cancellation (ANC).

It was only very recently I experienced ANC for the first time. On a train bound for Huddersfield, trying to focus on work in a noisy carriage, cue ANC. Wow, my first thought was ‘where has this been all my life’, second was how the announcements of the train conductor still came through, letting me know the shop was open or which stop was next. This may have been a ‘feature’ of my budget friendly ANC headphones, but it worked a treat, all the background noise was filtered out and still got the important noise. 

Alright Dan, get on with it, how is that like a Learning Technologist, I hear you ask.

As Learning Technologists we work across 3 very noisy spaces:

  • Educational (and consumer) technology
  • The complex and slow moving higher education regulatory landscape
  • Teaching, learning and assessment trends in higher education

Our role is to take in the ambient noise of these, work with our colleagues to make sense of them and pass through the important or useful information. In short, make sure effective strategies for using technology in teaching, learning and assessment are heard loud and clear.

Yes, I’m going to talk about generative AI

Given that it is a currently a week in 2023, we’ll use generative AI as an example. It provides a great example of the types of noise we deal with. Not a week goes by that dozens of new generative AI ‘solutions’ both good and bad are peddled by edtech companies, major tech companies or some random person on Reddit. Each of these promise to solve specific problems. Collectively however, they create more questions and more noise: what to listen to, who to listen to, what should I know and what should I be worried about. Ultimately, what does this mean for me in my classroom.

I’m sorry to say, this blog post isn’t going to answer any of those questions right now, rather they highlight the types of noise we can assist in cancelling out. Of course the above can be true of any specific technology, but with the AI example we might say (through our web pages), ‘no, don’t trust that tool’, ‘this is what’s coming’ or ‘here are some ideas for using the tools you have available’ and ‘here’s how to talk to your students about it’.

LTs are the experts in education technology noise cancellation, it’s our job to make sense of trends, to understand them, to test them, to be critical of them and to advocate for them as necessary. We champion the stuff we genuinely believe will be valuable for your teaching toolset. So, when it all gets a bit much or you’re not sure where to start, use us – turn your LT ANC on and enjoy the peace for a bit. Whether it’s generative AI, using Panopto, immersive technologies or in class polling, your Learning Technologist can help you cut though the noise.

A word of caution

Leaving ANC on for too long can be risky, you might become too reliant and when it’s not available, struggle to make sense of the noise by yourself! Yes, you guessed it, I’m talking about digital skills here. It’s super important that we each develop the capacity to critically evaluate and make sense of education and consumer technology developments. Just as important is how you signal the importance of this skill to your students. In the same way you would for your discipline specific knowledge, your students will have your subject ANC turned way up to 11 in year one, but come graduation, you’ll have weaned your students off it.

So there you have it, the question I’ve been struggling with for most of my career, explaining what a Learning Technologist does to friends who don’t work in education (and some who do): we’re active noise cancellation for teachers.

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Posted in AI, digital skills, Learning Technologies

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We are the Educational Enhancement team at the University of Sussex. We publish posts each week on using technology to support teaching and learning. Read more about us.

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