When I first started working as a Learning Designer, people used to look at me blankly when I stated my title as a response to the standard ‘What do you do?’ conversation – people had never really heard of learning design as a discipline or a role within higher education.
I developed a quick response that I also linked to in my email signature for a while:
A Learning Designer works at the nexus of technology and pedagogy to design and develop effective learning experiences, usually in collaboration with subject matter experts.
But that often still left a question on the lips of my audience, so I’ve taken to explaining my job in casual conversation as “helping academics learn how to teach more effectively using technology”. This simple statement belies the complexity of what I do, so I’m going to take a moment to expand on it.
One of the core elements of what a Learning Designer does is lead by influencing rather than authority. I have shaped the direction of blended learning in the biggest Law School in the country, with top level support from the Head of School, by influencing academics to adopt new teaching and learning practices in a remarkable short amount of time. This requires exceptional relationship building, negotiation and communication skills. Collaboration and generosity, with time and knowledge, are important in my role and something I am known for. Staff development and capacity building, through formal and informal opportunities is also essential to my work and relies not only on my relationships with academics but my ability to facilitate a culture of collegiality and honesty around blended and online teaching.
It is imperative that my suggestions or solutions are based on sound pedagogical knowledge, which is why my teaching degree and experience in K-12 education is an important asset. Higher education is still in the midst of a shift from traditional transmissive modes of teaching (the standard lecture and tutorial model), with a range of uptake of more modern pedagogical approaches depending on the discipline and the individual academic. I need to be able to discuss alternative approaches and why we might use them, with both theoretical and practical expertise.
In modern learning environments technology is an essential part of designing learning. I have a strong technical background, having worked in the IT industry as a Database Administrator, System Administrator and Consultant. I then moved into teaching high school IT when I completed my teaching degree. I can code, plan system architecture, design solutions from individual applications to enterprise systems and use any technology tool I get my hands on. Obviously an Information Systems degree helped with my technological capabilities, but an ongoing interest in and willingness to play with technology and a talent for seeing possible pedagogically relevant applications for technology tools is the most useful thing for my role as a learning designer.
Learning Design is a verb, rather than a noun.
Learning Design, like any design practice, is an iterative process, with evaluation an essential part of the cycle. When people speak of ‘using a learning design’ they are usually adopting someone else’s approach rather than designing specifically for their situation and their students. Additionally, you can’t pick a learning design out of a list, implement it and leave it be. Learning Design is an active process, and ideally follows an iterative design methodology (this idea is still at seed stage with many academics, who have competing pressures of research and teaching and have student evaluation imposed as a core KPI) The design approach or methodology used varies from practitioner to practitioner, with ADDIE being a simple one I often use in my capacity building activities with academics.
You can see some of my recent Learning Design projects in my portfolio and I always welcome discussion on ways to improve how we design learning and become better at Learning Design.